Thorpe drags England back into the match
West Indies 224 and 21 for 1 lead England 226 (Thorpe 119*, Edwards 4-70) by 19 runs
Graham Thorpe, with one of his greatest innings, not only kept England in the third Test, but shifted the momentum of the match their way on another absorbing day at Bridgetown. Thorpe scored a magnificent 119 not out, and dug his side out of a big hole to help them to a slender first-innings lead of two. West Indies then lost Chris Gayle shortly before stumps, and closed with a lead of just 19.
England didn't find the going easy for most of the day, and the only man who stood up to the impressive Bajan barrage of fast bowling was the dependable Thorpe, who rolled up his sleeves up and gritted it out. He can't have played many more important innings in his long career. He used all his street-fighting savvy to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and drag England past West Indies' modest 224.
While his team-mates played uncharacteristically sloppy shots, Thorpe was prepared to wait for the bad balls. Placement and timing were the features of his innings, and he collected 13 fours in all, most of them behind square. Just as importantly, though, he hung in there for over five hours. At tea, England were tottering at 162 for 8, and Michael Vaughan would probably have settled for somewhere around 200. However, Thorpe slowly changed the whole mood of the game. He added 32 with a watchful Simon Jones, and then an even more priceless 39 with Stephen Harmison for the last wicket.
In that time, he notched up his richly deserved century - England's first of the series, but his 13th overall, in his 86th Test - by stepping down the track and crunching Fidel Edwards on the up past mid-on and to the rope. Thorpe punched the air in delight, and received rapturous applause from all quarters of the Kensington Oval. The adoring Barmy Army, along with the England balcony, appreciated just what a critical knock it was.
Thorpe guided England to a two-run lead, and his vigil overshadowed what was West Indies' most impressive allround bowling display of the series so far. Edwards, the youngest of the quartet, led the way with four wickets, two of them in the first ten minutes of the day, as England, bar Thorpe and the tailenders, failed to keep cool heads under the sustained pressure.
England's first casualty was Mark Butcher, in the fourth over of the day. He flashed at a wide, lifting ball from Edwards, and Gayle pouched it in front of his face at first slip (24 for 2). Vaughan was never at ease, and he perished trying to pull Edwards, caught behind by Ridley Jacobs for 17 (33 for 3).
England had scored only 13 runs in the first 45 minutes, and it was up to the old heads of Thorpe and Nasser Hussain to drag them out of trouble again. They managed to ride out the storm for the majority of the morning session, but just as they seemed to be guiding England to lunch with no further flutters, Corey Collymore finally had his first success of the series when he bowled Hussain through the gate (65 for 4).
The wickets kept on coming in the afternoon. Andrew Flintoff was again out to a soft shot. He tamely patted Tino Best off the back foot straight to mid-off for 15 (90 for 5). Chris Read, under pressure to make runs, hit a couple of handsome drives, but was trapped in front by Edwards for 13 (119 for 6). Ashley Giles played an inelegant swat at Pedro Collins and was gobbled up by the substitute, Barbados's Antonio Mayers, at third slip (147 for 7). Matthew Hoggard then stuck around for 13 balls until he was leg-before to that effective Collins inswinger (155 for 8).
All this meant that Thorpe was fast running out of partners, but Jones and Harmison stuck around for the ride as England won that crucial last session. Jones bravely kept Thorpe company for 37 balls until he was spectacularly caught by Ramnaresh Sarwan at short leg off Best. Jones clipped the ball off his toes, and Sarwan flung up his hands more in hope than anything else, but the ball miraculously stuck in his palms (187 for 9). Harmison then again proved he can hang around when he needs to, and he shut up shop for 29 balls until he was bowled by Collins. But Thorpe had kept the huge British contingent happy, with his magical hundred at the other end.
West Indies then had a tricky ten overs to face before the close, in which time Gayle was done up like a kipper. He slammed three short ones from Harmison to the boundary, but was then bowled all ends up by a yorker, which he swished at optimistically without moving his feet at all (19 for 1). Gayle won't want to see the replay.
Bad light forced the players off shortly afterwards, frustrating England's hopes of removing Lara as well, but Gayle's wicket has put them fractionally ahead. Early wickets tomorrow will make them strong favourites to remove that 36-year-old monkey from their backs.
Freddie Auld is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.