Sarwan and Bravo keep West Indies afloat
Ramnaresh Sarwan reached the close of the fourth day in Trinidad on 93 not out, seven runs short of the seventh and, potentially, most valuable Test century of his 51-match career, as he and Dwayne Bravo added 78 for the sixth wicket in a crucial unbeaten partnership. Together, they batted out the final 32 overs of an extended final session, to ensure that West Indies would begin the final day with a fighting chance of saving the second Test.
That prospect had seemed an eternity away at the mid-stage of the innings, when Nicky Boje and Makhaya Ntini instigated a dreadful collapse of four wickets for 13 runs in seven overs either side of tea. Facing a first-innings deficit of 51, West Indies had reached a state of relative prosperity at 79 for 1, when Boje spun one into Wavell Hinds's pads to trap him lbw for 22 and open the floodgates.
Three overs later, both Brian Lara and Shivnarine Chanderpaul had fallen for single figures, and the teams were still digesting their tea when Donovan Pagon was the fifth man out, bowled by Ntini for 2 to complete a miserable match. Yet Sarwan remained phlegmatic throughout, and after his first-innings failure (in which he had top-edged a bouncer to fine leg) he was watchful and tenacious against pace and spin alike - save for one notable let-off.
Poor Jacques Rudolph endured a day to forget in the field. First, he took his eyes off the ball while fielding at short leg, and failed to notice that Sarwan had lobbed an attempted pull over his right shoulder. Then, while fielding at square leg in the first over of Monde Zondeki's new spell, he completely muffed a firm clip off the legs from Bravo, who had made just 12 at the time.
Nevertheless, from the moment they grabbed massive scalp of Lara, six balls before the interval, the day belonged indubitably to South Africa. After falling for 196 in the first innings, Lara had glanced Andre Nel to the fine-leg boundary to bring up his 200th run of the match, but before he could progress further, Boje tempted him to shape for the cut and bowled him neck and crop as the ball spat hard and low out of the rough. It was a ill-judged shot, but given the success his attacking approach had enjoyed in the first innings, it was hard to criticise.
Lara's demise was music to South Africa's ears, but Graeme Smith was not satisfied and with one over remaining before tea, he recalled Makhaya Ntini to the attack to instant effect. Ntini, who had already accounted for Chris Gayle in a hostile new-ball spell, rapped Chanderpaul on the pads with his very first delivery, and umpire David Shepherd instantly upheld the appeal. Replays showed that the ball had pitched outside leg stump, but it was too late for recriminations.
The collapse made ample amends for South Africa, after their best-laid plans had gone badly awry in the morning session. As if a precursor of what was to come, it was the unassuming offspin of Gayle that did the damage, as South Africa lost all four remaining wickets in the first 40 minutes of play. Had they managed another session of steady accumulation, their lead of 23 with four wickets in hand could have been translated into a matchwinning position. As it is, they were bundled out for 398 - a slender advantage of 51 - and West Indies had been allowed right back into the match.
Gayle, who had wheeled away without success or scare for 33 overs on the previous two days, struck with his very first ball of the morning to remove Mark Boucher for 28, and when South Africa's other overnight batsman, Ashwell Prince, fell in the very same over, Gayle mopped up the tail so efficiently that Chanderpaul did not even contemplate turning to the new ball. Makhaya Ntini and Andre Nel were both suckered by a lack of spin and bowled, as Gayle wrapped up the innings with 4 for 9 from 4.5 overs.
The spin of Boje was South Africa's greatest threat as well, looping the ball onto a full length from around the wicket to stifle West Indies' run-rate and tempt them into indiscretions. But neither Sarwan nor Bravo - another man who had missed the first Test because of the sponsorship row - lost their nerve.
However, the vagaries in the Trinidad pitch had been shown up during a hostile new-ball spell from Ntini and Nel, and the pair will be in harness on the fifth morning as well, when the second new ball becomes available after two overs. It will be the critical phase of this match. If West Indies can see it off, they may yet go to Barbados with the series all-square.
Mark Boucher c & b Gayle 28 (374 for 7)
Leading edge, easy return catch
Ashwell Prince c Chanderpaul b Gayle 45 (375 for 8)
Checked drive, good tumbling catch at short cover
Makhaya Ntini b Gayle 4 (384 for 9)
Straight low long-hop, pegged back off stump
Andre Nel b Gayle 6 (398 for 10)
Round the wicket, deceived by angle, missed a straight one
Chris Gayle c de Villiers b Ntini 1 (14 for 1)
On back foot, fenced lifter to gully
Wavell Hinds lbw b Boje 22 (79 for 2)
Played back to big turner, might have done too much?
Brian Lara b Boje 4 (85 for 3)
Ripped out of rough and kept low
Shivnarine Chanderpaul lbw b Ntini 1 (86 for 4)
Looked plumb, but pitched outside leg
Donovan Pagon b Ntini 2 (92 for 5)
Trapped on crease, under-edged yorker onto stumps