England v West Indies, 1st Test, Lord's, 3rd day May 19, 2012

West Indies only a little bit lost

History will give a bland explanation of this match but the West Indies have had plenty to take heart from

Just as you cannot be a little bit pregnant or a little bit dead, so a team cannot a little bit lose. Results can sometimes provide a sweeping generalisation of a game and, viewed as a bald statistic years later, can provide a misleading picture of the ebbs and flows of an encounter that could, but for a moment here and there, have concluded differently.

It may well prove the case with this Test. Whatever happens on the final two days - and while England hold the upper hand, let us not forget Jamaica 2009 or Abu Dhabi 2012 - West Indies can take heart from some aspects of their performance.

There were moments on the third day when West Indies played admirably and threatened to fight their way back into the game. But on each occasion two poor passages of play cost them and provided a reminder of how narrow the margins between success and failure can be.

At first they impressed with the ball. In the first 25 overs - 25 overs that occupied more than two hours as a slow over-rate robbed spectators of five overs of cricket over the course of the day - West Indies' seamers produced sustained spells of good quality bowling that earned five wickets. While England were always going to establish a lead, it looked for a while as if West Indies might limit it to little over 100.

It was not to be. Confronted with Graeme Swann - admittedly a man with claims of being the best regular No. 10 England have ever had - the visitors momentarily abandoned the strategy that had brought them success and started to bowl too full and too wide. While Swann's 30 runs may not seem significant, they allowed England to add 55 runs for the tenth wicket. It not only helped stretch England's lead past 150, it allowed Ian Bell - who came into this Test under just a little bit of pressure - to complete a confidence-restoring half-century and will have sapped the spirits of the tourists just as they started to rise.

While no-one would claim the tourists are the finished article, they are not so far away from tangible reward as is sometimes suggested.

It was a session that underlined two important factors. Firstly, it proved how valuable England's lower-order runs can be and highlighted an area in which West Indies are weak. For while West Indies have the tail of a diplodocus, England have the tail of a Manx cat.

It also highlighted the importance of concentration and discipline. West Indies had started the day so well, only for half-an-hour's sloppy cricket to let them down. Darren Sammy and Fidel Edwards both conceded more than three an over; Kemar Roach more than four. Later, even when the England attack were reduced to something approaching impotency by the almost impenetrable Shivnarine Chanderpaul and the defiant Marlon Samuels, the bowlers nevertheless ensured they gave little away. James Anderson conceded fewer than two runs an over, the others conceded well under three. Such statistics do not necessarily tell a tale of superior skill; they might also tell a tale of superior discipline and concentration.

The second passage of play in which West Indies impressed came when they began their second innings. It appeared their openers had negotiated the new ball with some aplomb. Even though Adrian Barath was dismissed by a beauty - little if any fault can be attached to the batsman - the tourists had an opportunity to build a substantial second innings total.

But the loss of Kieran Powell and Kirk Edwards without the addition of another run was a crushing blow. It was the manner of their dismissals that really grated. Powell, who had resisted sensibly for an hour, failed to heed the fact that England had placed two men back for the hook and pulled the ball to the fielder as if providing fielding practise, before Darren Bravo called Edwards (who has now had five first-class innings on this tour and scored just 13 runs) for a single only to leave him hopelessly stranded as Jonny Bairstow pounced with a direct hit. Not long afterwards Bravo left a delivery that drifted in and hit his off stump. While the arm-ball from Swann was a beauty, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that West Indies' batsmen had played a substantial part in their own downfall.

If West Indies go on to win - they are only 35 runs behind, after all - England may equally rue a narrow escape for Chanderpaul when he had just two. Attempting to guide a delivery from Tim Bresnan towards third man, Chanderpaul instead edged tantalisingly wide of Anderson at third slip. It may yet prove to be the key moment of this Test.

There is a flip side to such encouraging moments, for West Indies in particular. They are also infuriating. They also provide a reminder of what they could achieve if they were able to sustain their good passages of play without the fatal poor hours intervening. It is a pattern that has plagued them over the last year or two, with the fact that Chanderpaul remains unbeaten underlining how reliant they remain upon him.

There will be one or two concerns for England. Most pertinently, they seem no nearer to working out how to dismiss Chanderpaul. Bearing in mind the South Africa batsmen which will confront them soon - a line-up including Amla, Kallis and de Villiers - and that may be causing a few anxious moments for Andy Flower and co.

Whatever happens over the final day or two, West Indies have shown they have the players to compete with the No. 1 ranked Test side in their home conditions. While no-one would claim the tourists are the finished article, they are not so far away from tangible reward as is sometimes suggested.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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