At St John's, April 29, 30, May 1, 2, 3, 2005. Drawn. Toss: South Africa. Test debut: D. M. Washington.
When the Antigua Recreation Ground is demolished by the 2007 World Cup bulldozer, international batsmen may shed a tear at the passing of the most benign strip in world cricket, but the cheer from bowlers should be deafening. After Lara's quadruple-century a year earlier, the highest individual contribution this time was a mere 317 by Gayle, the 14th-highest score in Test history.
But in all, a record eight centuries trickled, flowed and gushed in this match. Gayle's triple-hundred surpassed Don Bradman's 299 not out at Adelaide in 1931-32 as the highest against South Africa, while Kallis, who hit his 22nd Test century, displaced Gary Kirsten as South Africa's most prolific Test batsman both in terms of runs - he ended the match on 7,337 - and hundreds. On such a gentle pitch (made even easier by the small, sloping outfield), record partnerships of every stripe seemed to lose their lustre. It was a match that few wanted to watch, and even fewer wanted to play. The most eager participants were probably Pollock, in his 94th Test after missing the last four with an inflamed ankle, and Dwight Washington, a 22-year-old fast bowler from Jamaica in his first. Neither experience nor youth could take a wicket.
The lasting memory of the match will be Gayle's innings. He had totalled just 12 in the last two Tests, but now he batted with a wonderful eye, a complete lack of fear, mind-boggling stamina, a lust for hitting the ball hard, and less foot movement than it would take to nudge a lemming off a cliff. He began his innings an hour before lunch on the third morning, was dropped on 80 and 298, reached 300 in the over before tea on the fourth day, and was dismissed soon after when he attempted to guide a delivery from Zondeki to third man and sent a head-high catch to Smith at slip. In all, he batted ten and a half hours and faced 483 balls, 37 of which went for four and three for six.
The match had begun, however, with the South African batsmen holding sway. De Villiers and Smith shared 245 for the first wicket, 214 of them on a rain-reduced opening day. Four wickets then fell for 50 before Kallis and Prince added 267, a South African fifth-wicket record. For Kallis, it was another chance to lap up some of his favourite bowling. For Prince, it was an opportunity to move from the fringes of the team towards the core.
But then, after the declaration, came Gayle, and everything that preceded him became a receding memory. He and Sarwan shared 331, an all-wicket ground record, before Lara strode out. Nothing seemed more certain than another huge innings, but he managed just one scoring shot from 29 balls. Chanderpaul hit a worthy hundred, as West Indies piled on the runs. The fourth century of the innings was a maiden Test hundred from Bravo. And still the records came: 747 was West Indies' biggest total against South Africa, and their third-highest overall.
To illustrate the depths of absurdity to which the match had long since sunk, Bravo was dismissed by Boucher, who bowled for the first time in a Test after passing the gloves to de Villiers. In fact, Smith gave everyone a bowl, perhaps in an effort to stop someone wandering off to the local rum shop in search of a more interesting way of spending the final afternoon of the series.
That should have been that, but the silence was pierced by the news that Bravo had accused Smith of racism. Hinds showed his disgust by apparently throwing the ball at Smith and spitting on the ground near him. The referee Jeff Crowe dismissed the charges of racism and took away Hinds's match fee, but it did not placate a raging Smith, who threatened legal action and demanded a public apology. Neither transpired, and Smith was left to mutter that Bravo was "young and inexperienced. In time he will mature into a better person."
Man of the Match: C. H. Gayle. Man of the Series: G. C. Smith.