Swann five gives England the edge
Graeme Swann bowled with skill, stamina and admirable patience on a baking hot day in Antigua to claim his maiden five-wicket haul in only his third Test, as England were made to battle hard for the ascendancy in the third Test at the ARG. Despite bowling West Indies out for 285 in reply to their first-innings total of 566 for 9, England opted not to enforce the follow-on with 40 minutes of the day remaining and rightly so, for it was a weary outfit that trooped from the field. With Steve Harmison on and off the field through illness and Andrew Flintoff labouring with a hip injury, their performance was dogged rather than inspired, and while the bowlers rested up for the second innings, England's batsmen extended the advantage by a further 31 runs, for the loss of the captain, Andrew Strauss, for 14.
Despite outbowling his senior team-mate, Monty Panesar, during England's pre-Christmas tour of India, Swann was a surprise selection for this contest, especially seeing as Panesar hadn't even had a chance to confirm his lack of form during the ten-ball Test at North Sound earlier in the week. But by the end of West Indies' first innings, the selectors' hunch had paid rich dividends. From an exploratory first over of the morning in which he ripped a beauty past Devon Smith's edge, to the flighty floater that trapped Sulieman Benn lbw to earn him his fifth wicket, Swann kept England's bid for victory firmly on course in a performance that made a mockery of Panesar's recent one-dimensional efforts.
Very little had been expected of Swann when Andrew Strauss tossed him the ball at the start of play, ostensibly to allow Harmison to change ends and attack the now-infamous football ridge at the Factory Road End of the ground. But before long he had become England's most reliable attacking weapon. He claimed their first wicket of the day with the first ball after the morning drinks break, when Devon Smith ruined the memory of an otherwise diligent 38 by slogging gormlessly across the line, and Swann added his second with 15 minutes to go until lunch, when the nightwatchman, Daren Powell, was finally prised from the crease for an excellent 22 from 86 balls, well caught at slip after being deceived by extra bounce.
Bounce, or lack of, was meant to be England's main threat during the day's play. Their seamers had spent the pre-match warm-up bowling at a marker on that awkward spot where a football halfway line runs across the middle of the wicket, but in the event the tactic proved counter-productive to their accuracy. Far too many deliveries went harmlessly past the bat (and, on two embarrassing occasions, straight through the legs of the wicketkeeper, Prior), as England became obsessed with the killer shooter, and forgot the basic rules of line and length.
That suited Ramnaresh Sarwan just fine, as he produced the counterattacking innings of the day - an aggressive 94 from 133 balls, replete with crashing cuts and sweet clips off the toes as he took full toll of England's wayward lines. He added 70 in a stylish fourth-wicket stand with Ryan Hinds, and at 200 for 3 midway through the second session, England were beginning to look resigned to a long and fruitless day in the field. Harmison by this stage was really struggling - he was seen retching at the top of his run-up before leaving the field for treatment, and when Sarwan briefly belted Swann from the attack as well with three fours and six in nine deliveries, Strauss was forced to turn to Pietersen's part-time offies, to no avail.
The turning point of the day, however, came in a crucial nine-ball spell just after the drinks break, when Andrew Flintoff and Stuart Broad finally tempted a pair of indiscretions outside off stump. First to go was Hinds, who dangled his bat at a ball angled across his bows, and Prior behind the stumps gathered impressively low to his left. Then, before he could settle, the main man Shivnarine Chanderpaul was gone as well. Stuart Broad, arguably the best of England's seamers on the day, persuaded him to flash outside off, Prior again took the catch, and the most obdurate character in the West Indies dressing room had been and gone without making a significant mark.
It was a jubilant moment for England, although the session could have gone even better for them had Broad in his followthrough clung onto a fierce return drive when Sarwan had made 63. Instead Sarwan pushed on after the break as well, and with Brendan Nash providing some typically frill-free support, the pair added 50 runs in 14 overs before a terrible rush of blood gave England the chance to go for the kill. On 94, and with a 13th Test century a single blow away, Sarwan went for the glory shot against Swann and picked out Flintoff at short mid-on. One ball later, and Swann was on a hat-trick as Denesh Ramdin tapped a loopy full-toss straight back into his hands, and at 251 for 7, the follow-on was beginning to loom.
Nash ensured that would never be an option by hanging around for 81 balls for his 18, an innings that finally ended when Flintoff returned for one last spell, and with his second delivery drew a loose flat-footed prod to Collingwood at second slip. Swann then claimed a richly deserved five-for, only the second by a spinner in the ARG's Test history, as Benn virtually gave himself out for the plumbest of lbws. Flintoff, visibly unfit, then ended an entertaining cameo from Jerome Taylor by running back to claim a skied return chance.
Flintoff's shattered demeanour meant there was no question of England heading back out to go through the whole ordeal again. Instead, their openers set about extending the advantage, although Strauss - after his 169 in the first innings - could not find the same fluency as Edwards rattled him with extra pace and drew an edgy drive to second slip. Edwards' day could have finished on a high had Hinds clung onto a last-over chance when the nightwatchman Anderson flashed outside off, but the chance went down and England sensed an opportunity to tighten the screw.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo