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February 16, 2009
By the close, West Indies were 55 for 1, still trailing by a hefty 511, on a pitch which was beginning to misbehave appreciably. The loss of Gayle, five overs before the close, was a huge blow to their prospects. He had just flogged Harmison for a monstrous pulled six which landed in the Factory Road, en route to 30 from 32 balls. But before that same over - Harmison's first - was done, Gayle was gone, caught at mid-off by James Anderson as he attempted to smear a half-volley through the covers.
That early strike, coupled with the tentative manner in which Devon Smith and the nightwatchman, Daren Powell, inched through to the close, reinforced the growing impression that the reinstated ARG is, despite all evidence to the contrary on the first day, a result wicket. It also reinforced the importance of Collingwood's knock, a typically gritty 113, albeit one with an unusual dash of flamboyance about it. He came to the crease in only the second over of the day, and might have been caught off the splice for a first-ball duck as Fidel Edwards roared in during an exemplary six-over spell of proper fast bowling.
But Collingwood endured, visibly thriving on the pressure as he outscored Kevin Pietersen in a gripping morning session, before easing into a holding role during a consolidatory afternoon's work. Unfairly or otherwise, such is his nuggetty reputation, a Collingwood century often feels more like a stay of execution than an underpinning of his place in the side, but the timing of this one - coming as it did after the dropping of the underperforming Ian Bell for Owais Shah - was apposite. Since being dropped at Headingley against South Africa last summer, Collingwood has scored three hundreds in nine innings, and confirmed his importance as the glue in the middle order.
Stickability was just what England needed as they sought to build on their overnight 301 for 3, and seize their chance to draw level in the series after that Jamaica humiliation. The new ball was just five overs old when play resumed, and Edwards, who had clattered Pietersen on the forearm with his first delivery late on Sunday evening, quickly cranked his pace back to where it had been in the lengthening shadows. He required just five deliveries to dismiss the nightwatchman James Anderson, and had he clung onto a sharp caught-and-bowled chance when Pietersen had made 25, the morning might have panned out very differently.
Pietersen went on to make 51 in a fifth-wicket partnership of 94, but he was rarely at his most commanding in a curiously fitful innings. He more than any other batsman seemed unsettled by the occasional shooter caused by the football centre circle that runs across a good length, and sure enough, it was the low bounce that eventually did for him, as Jerome Taylor - who had been lacklustre in his opening three-over burst - popped up after lunch with two wickets in three balls, including Andrew Flintoff for a second-ball duck.
Taylor only bowled five overs in that session, however, as he struggled with a hip injury, and without his support, Edwards' fury could not be sustained. Daren Powell was particularly off-colour - he fed Collingwood a selection of half-hearted half-trackers that were dispatched with glee to the boundary, and was later rifled for a superb straight six by Stuart Broad, who made a colourful 44 as England pushed for the declaration in the afternoon session. Sulieman Benn, meanwhile, endured a grumpy day's work. His unplayable eight-wicket haul at Sabina Park was a thing of the past as he toiled without reward for 39 overs, on a pitch that may be proving a touch up-and-down, but once again has offered next to nothing to the spinners.
The day belonged to Collingwood, however, who demonstrated his high spirits with a peculiarly extravagant celebration for his fifty in the over before lunch. Flintoff on the balcony laughed his head off in response - proof, if nothing else, that England's spirits are far higher now than they were two weeks ago in Jamaica, when the tour seemed to be collapsing around their ears. Pietersen added his own fifty shortly after the resumption, but Taylor returned from the Factory Road End to demolish his leg stump via an inside-edge. Pietersen's hammy reaction made it clear what he thought of the deteriorating bounce, and when Flintoff lost his middle stump in the same over, to a ball that barely got above shin height, England had all the more reason to be thankful they had been handed first use of the wicket.
With that in mind, the remainder of the order did not hang about. Matt Prior used the same controlled aggression that had earned him an impressive (and ultimately forgotten) half-century in the first innings at Jamaica, flogging six fours through the off side before picking out deep long-off to give Brendan Nash his first Test wicket. Broad and Graeme Swann played equally forceful knocks, 44 and 20 respectfully, as Collingwood pushed determinedly on towards his hundred. A drilled drive through mid-on took him to 99, and two balls later a typical nurdle off the pads (his self-proclaimed favourite stroke) brought up a hundred that might yet have given England the platform to push for a series-levelling win.
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