Smith and Hinds revive West Indies
West Indies 311 for 9 (Smith 108, Hinds 84) v England
In recent years, England have earned a reputation for being slow off the mark in crucial Test series, but at Sabina Park today, they fought toe-to-toe with West Indies in an enthralling opening gambit.
England started and finished the day strongly. In the morning session, their pace attack struck hard and fast, grabbing all four of West Indies' experienced batsmen inside the first session and a half, and later returned to make efficient inroads into the tail. But in between whiles they were beaten back by a fifth-wicket stand of 122 between Devon Smith and Ryan Hinds, two batsmen making their return to the team after lengthy absences, as West Indies closed on 311 for 9.
Smith, in his first match since that world-record run-chase of 418 against Australia in Antigua last May, rode out the early storm to make a fine 108, his maiden Test century. It was a gritty effort laced with occasional panache. He took his fair share of blows as Andrew Flintoff cracked him on the shoulder blade and Steve Harmison on the helmet and box, but Smith responded with a litany of defiant boundaries, including several slashes over the covers with a keen eye and the minimum of footwork.
He was eventually stumped by Chris Read after a lapse of judgment, as he swept at Ashley Giles and left his back foot trailing just outside his crease. It was a careless end to a superb knock, but Giles - who bounced back well after being milked for 20 runs in his first two overs - soon struck again to remove Hinds, whose bullish approach had been paying rich dividends, He was all set for a century of his own, when he chipped a tame sweep to Mark Butcher at short fine leg. Hinds was gone for 84, and West Indies had slipped to 281 for 6.
Nonetheless, it was a position of strength when compared to their perilous start to the innings. On winning the toss, Lara had little hesitation in choosing to bat first, on a hard-baked but green-tinged track that was a far cry from the corrugated minefield that greeted England on their last trip to the Caribbean in 1997-98. He admitted at the time that the first hour would be crucial, and Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison exploited the early-morning conditions to good effect, each picking up a wicket inside the first 40 minutes.
Harmison, back in the side after the back problems that scuppered his pre-Christmas trip to the subcontinent, was the first to strike. After feeling his way back into a decent rhythm, he produced an excellent full-length heavy ball that bounced more than Chris Gayle had expected and cannoned off his bat into the base of his middle stump. Three overs later, Hoggard - with a good line and inducking length - trapped Ramnaresh Sarwan lbw for an 11-ball duck, as he played all round a straight delivery that would have taken out middle-and-leg (22 for 2).
The entire hopes of the Caribbean transferred to Lara's shoulders, and he made an uneasy start to his innings, twice fencing Harmison through the slips for four. But Smith was growing in confidence at the other end, and the pair had added 51 for the third wicket when Simon Jones popped up to produce the golden moment of the day.
With his 13th delivery, Jones forced Lara fence uncertainly at another well-directed ball, and Andrew Flintoff at second slip pouched the most effortless of catches. Jones's celebration was exultant and heart-felt, and he looked close to tears as he hugged Flintoff. It has been a long and painful road to recovery, and he could not have wished for a more rewarding wicket.
Soon after lunch, Chanderpaul prodded loosely at a wide delivery from Hoggard and inside-edged onto his leg stump (101 for 4), and Harmison roughed up Smith in a top-notch spell of aggression that demonstrated his eagerness for the task. But just as the floodgates seemed ready to be cranked open, Smith and Hinds carried the fight back to England's bowlers, as West Indies regained the upper hand.
But once Giles had made the breakthroughs, Jones struck for a second time to remove Ridley Jacobs, who had played well within himself for his 37. Thereafter, the new ball took over. Tino Best refused to go down without a fight, belting Giles for a straight six and swinging Hoggard for four behind square, but he was adjudged lbw to a Harmison yorker that might have missed leg, after Adam Sanford had been caught at first slip off Flintoff.
England were unable to prise apart the last pair, although Harmison gave Fidel Edwards a shock when he slipped out a brutal beamer in the penultimate over of the day. It was totally accidental and Harmison apologized immediately, but he might not be relishing the prospect of batting too much after that.