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March 13, 2004
Close West Indies 311 and 8 for 0 (Gayle 8*, Smith 0*) trail England 339 (Hussain 58, Butcher 58) by 20 runs
Yesterday it was Fidel Edwards's turn to give England the hurry-up. But today, with Edwards off the field nursing a worrying back strain, it was Tino Best who stepped into the breach. With three vital wickets - his first in Tests - Best ensured that England's first-innings lead was kept to the barest minimum. By the close of another weather-shortened day, West Indies trailed by just 20 runs, and had everything to play for.
At first, the day had all the makings of a disaster for West Indies. Edwards's injury was compounded by the temporary absence of Brian Lara, who missed the first session after dislocating his little finger late on Friday afternoon. But after Nasser Hussain and Graham Thorpe had cruised to 187 for 3 in a nine-over mini-session, the rains forced a half-hour hiatus, and West Indies returned refreshed.
After a wide and woolly first over to Thorpe, Best soon found the perfect line to complement his pace, and Thorpe top-edged an uncertain hook straight to Adam Sanford at fine leg. Best's celebration was exultant - he had gone wicketless on debut against Australia last year, and after 30 overs of Test cricket, he had begun to wonder whether this wicket would ever come. So he hared around the pitch with his arms outstretched, before tumbling to the floor like Gazza expecting the dentist's-chair treatment.
His morning got even better two overs later. Hussain had been playing with typical phlegm all through his innings, but when he attempted to steer Best through the leg side, he managed only to chip a tame leading edge to the substitute, Dave Bernard, running in from the covers. Hussain was gone for 58 and at 209 for 5, West Indies sensed an opening.
But Chris Read and Andrew Flintoff carried England through to lunch without many alarms, and after another lengthy rain-break, Flintoff raced towards his half-century with a beautifully controlled innings, with clips and nudges for two replacing his usual meaty strikes.
Sadly for England, the beast in Flintoff can never be subdued for long. On 46, he attempted to smear the part-time legspin of Ramnaresh Sarwan over long-on and holed out to Ryan Hinds at midwicket (268 for 6). It was a disappointing end for Flintoff, and with the new ball just around the corner, it was a badly timed one as well - with Best's first delivery back, he caught Read completely out of position, and a throat-ball was shovelled to square leg (278 for 7).
But for all the wholehearted efforts of Best, West Indies's lack of experience began to show as the shine came off the new ball. Ashley Giles and the gloriously strokeless Matthew Hoggard milked some wayward fare from Sanford in particular, to carry England into the lead that included 60 extras. Sanford eventually got his revenge, bowling Giles off his pads for 27, but Simon Jones and Steve Harmison smacked a boundary apiece as England finished on a satisfactory 339, 28 in front.
Hoggard found some excellent movement late in the day as Chris Gayle and Devon Smith survived to the close. But with two days remaining, and Best's efforts notwithstanding, West Indies will be hoping that the probable loss of Edwards does not prove to be costly.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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