At Birmingham, June 7-11. Drawn. Toss: England. Test debuts: A. B. Fudadin, S. P. Narine.
For a while it seemed the only history this match would make was of the meteorological variety: not since 1964, and Australia's visit to Lord's, had the first two days of a Test in England been washed out. But on the fourth morning, with the game going nowhere, came an unexpected Sunday best - or rather Tino Best, who rescued the match from watery obscurity with an astounding innings of 95, the highest by a Test No. 11.
All series, the talk had been of West Indies missing some illustrious names. Now, they shuffled their existing pack: Sunil Narine - finally part of the tour after helping Kolkata Knight Riders win the IPL - and Assad Fudadin were handed Test debuts, and Deonarine and Best drafted in; Kirk Edwards and Shillingford were dropped, while Roach had been ruled out of the rest of the tour with a shin injury, and Chanderpaul was said to have suffered a side strain. But none performed half as entertainingly as Best. His innings - part of a West Indies record last-wicket stand of 143 with Ramdin - was also used as evidence that England had erred in resting both Anderson, left out of the squad entirely, and Broad, omitted shortly before play eventually started on the third day.
Neither was thrilled by the decision, though it had been defended with some passion by team director Andy Flower, and created room for the recall of Finn and Onions, playing his first Test since January 2010 after recovering from a career-threatening back injury. But after Strauss won the toss, England were soon missing Anderson, if not necessarily for his bowling. Barath had made only four when he edged Onions to Bell at third slip, Anderson's regular haunt between overs: down went the chance. Then, in the second over after lunch, Bell dropped Barath, on 40, in the same position, this time off Finn.
Onions quickly took Bell out of the equation, trapping Barath leg-before in the next over. England's seamers - headed by Bresnan, soon to surrender his record of winning every Test he had played - belatedly located a better length and began to chip away at the batting. But as at Trent Bridge, Samuels responded well to the bowlers' chatter and completed an elegant fifty by striking Swann for six and four off successive balls, then pointed his bat at Onions in recognition of their ongoing joust. He eventually fell to Bresnan for 76, and the end of the innings appeared nigh when Rampaul was caught behind off the third ball next morning.
But Best promptly cracked Finn through mid-off for four, then held the pose, paving the way for an unreal session in which he drove England to distraction and the ball to the fence in equal measure. Relatively unnoticed at the other end was Ramdin, who had 63 when Best came in, was dropped on 69 by Pietersen in the gully off Finn, and completed a wicketkeeper's hundred, full of cuts and deflections. It was his second in Tests, both against England - and was immediately overshadowed when he produced a piece of paper from his pocket bearing the scrawl: "YEA VIV, TALK NAH".
That followed criticism from Viv Richards during the Second Test, when he had described Ramdin as looking "totally lost". Given that Richards still seemed in the physical shape of his playing days, Ramdin could hardly be said to have chosen a soft target. Unimpressed by his bravado, the ICC fined him 20% of his match fee. Meanwhile, boundaries flowed from Best: Bresnan was upper-cut for four and driven for a six. England's hope was that, like the Australians here in 2005, the closer Best got to an improbable target, the more nervous he would become. So it proved: on 95, he slashed at a wide, slower ball from Onions, and Strauss ran back from the slips to hold on. The manner in which he threw the ball away told of Strauss's frustration, despite equalling the England record of 120 Test catches, shared by Colin Cowdrey and Ian Botham.
Best had faced only 112 balls, cruising past the highest score by a Test No. 11: Zaheer Khan's 75 for India against Bangladesh at Dhaka in December 2004. His partnership with Ramdin fell eight short of the tenth-wicket Test record of 151, held jointly by Richard Collinge and Brian Hastings, for New Zealand against Pakistan at Auckland in 1972-73, and Azhar Mahmood and Mushtaq Ahmed, for Pakistan against South Africa at Rawalpindi in 1997-98.
The canny Rampaul quickly removed Cook, before Trott and Strauss - superbly caught by Bravo at first slip off a joyous Best - followed cheaply. At 49 for three, England were in a spot of bother. But Pietersen, in his first innings since announcing his retirement from limited-overs internationals, and Bell batted sublimely, while the only mystery surrounding the Test debut of the feted off-spinner Narine appeared to be why he had failed to live up to the hype. Pietersen looked determined to bring him down to size before, equally unsurprisingly, falling to the less celebrated off-breaks of Samuels.
In the midst of their fluent stand of 137, the umpires twice took the players off for bad light, even though the floodlights were on. At Lord's, the match had carried on under artificial light when it had been far darker, but that was now forgotten. Umpire Tony Hill lamely justified the decision by saying spectators wouldn't wish to bat against Best in such conditions, and that his colleague, Kumar Dharmasena, was struggling to see the ball from square leg. On the final day, however, despite a downpour, the officials didn't call off play until well into the afternoon. To England the series, but to Best imperishable glory.
Man of the Match: T. L. Best. Attendance: 54,620.
Men of the Series: England - A. J. Strauss; West Indies - M. N. Samuels.
Close of play: first day, no play; second day, no play; third day, West Indies 280-8 (Ramdin 60, Rampaul 2); fourth day, England 221-5 (Bell 76, Finn 0).