England battle back after Gayle and Sarwan's hundreds
West Indies 352 for 7 (Nash 47*, Benn 10*) lead England 318 (Pietersen 97) by 34 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary
Chris Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan both recorded centuries in a second-wicket stand of 202, while West Indies' traditionally brittle lower-middle order found a new backbone in the form of their Australia-born Jamaican, Brendan Nash, as England were made to toil for wickets on the third day in Kingston. By the close of play their first-innings total of 318 had been overhauled in a long, slow and determined grind that was seldom pretty to watch but mightily heartening for a lively and appreciative Sabina Park crowd.
It was a consummate team performance from West Indies, and that's a phrase that has rarely been used in recent years. From the diligence of Gayle and Sarwan at the top of the order, via Shivnarine Chanderpaul's typically obdurate 20 from 86 balls, to a vital 66-run stand between Nash and Denesh Ramdin that halted England's bid for momentum at 254 for 5, they found sufficient character at the pivotal moments of the day to leave England's captain, Andrew Strauss, with plenty to ponder as he led his weary troops from the field.
Compared with their lacklustre efforts on the second afternoon, England were actually a much improved unit with the ball. The pick of the attack was Stuart Broad, who claimed three vital breakthroughs with an attacking wicket-to-wicket line. It was he who ended Gayle's superb innings in the penultimate over before lunch with a delivery that kept low to pluck out the middle stump, and having bagged Xavier Marshall lbw two balls later, he returned late in the afternoon session, armed with a new ball that had been delayed for 24 overs, to send Chanderpaul on his way in the same fashion.
But in perhaps the key partnership of the day, Nash and Ramdin repelled England's bowlers for 26 overs in their contrasting styles - Nash, a nuggetty left-hander, deflected and nurdled with little regard for the run-rate (save for one hostile Flintoff over, in which he employed the uppercut to good effect to poach two of his three boundaries). Ramdin, meanwhile, was more assertive, chasing width with scything cuts and drives, many of which would have been worth more on a less sluggish outfield. It was he who secured the first-innings lead with a feisty pull for four off Broad, although he hadn't added to his score of 35 when he edged Monty Panesar to Paul Collingwood at slip two overs later. That wicket was Panesar's first and only breakthrough in 45 overs of hard yakka.
Steve Harmison added the wicket of Jerome Taylor late in the day for 7, and Nash reached the close three runs shy of a richly deserved third Test fifty in four innings. Nevertheless, the most celebrated innings of the day was played by another, more renowned Jamaican. On Bob Marley's 64th anniversary, Gayle chose an auspicious date to record his ninth Test century, and first in front of his home fans. Despite his untimely pre-lunch demise, it was unquestionably one of the most disciplined innings of his career, and really rammed home West Indies' overnight advantage, after they had resumed on 160 for 1.
Gayle reached his hundred in a typically grandstanding manner - two massive sixes over long-on off Panesar were followed immediately by a delicate sweep to fine leg. And though that flurry may have been in keeping with his reputation, in truth this was an innings of intense dedication. He reached three figures from a devout 183 balls, and aside from those two late blows, he picked up only two other boundaries all day, both of them controlled deflections through the slip cordon.
On a slow and sluggish surface, patience was the key for batsmen and bowlers alike. England ploughed a disciplined furrow outside off, occasionally teasing the edge but more often than not hoping against hope for an indiscretion from the incumbent batsmen. For an hour and 50 minutes of the morning session it was not forthcoming, as Gayle and Sarwan sensed a genuine opportunity to bat England out of the contest.
Sarwan, whose form had been under some scrutiny in the build-up to this match, was every bit as disciplined as his captain. Resuming on 71, he continued to pepper the off-side with crisp drives and pushes, although on an incredibly slow outfield he did not get full value for his strokes. He picked up a solitary four through the covers as Andrew Flintoff overpitched, and then added his second boundary of the morning in the final over of the session, as he paddled Panesar delicately behind square to bring up his 12th Test century.
For all the serenity of the pair's partnership, there was another moment of drama involving the review system when Gayle had made 85. Flintoff sent down a leg-side delivery, and Matt Prior claimed a strangled catch with glee. Umpire Tony Hill immediately upheld the appeal, but Gayle was not amused and called for a second opinion. Daryl Harper in the TV replay booth was not permitted to use Hotspot to aid his adjudication, so he had only a very sketchy and inconclusive slow-motion replay to work with.
For the second day running, the benefit of the doubt was given to the batsman, and Hill, who would not have been umpiring in this game had Asoka de Silva got his visa in time, must have been wishing he'd never landed in the country. Hill did at least have the pleasure of his first correct call at the fourth attempt later on in the day, when Chanderpaul's lbw decision was upheld on review. And earlier in the afternoon, Hill had again been vindicated when England wasted their final referral on an over-ambitious Panesar appeal that was rightly dismissed out of hand.
There was no review required for Sarwan's eventual dismissal, however. Flintoff, bowling with typical pace and accuracy with the old ball, managed first to stifle West Indies' scoring options, then find enough movement off a slow deck to find an inside-edge as Sarwan attempted to slash his way through the off side. He threw his head back in disgust after enduring for 290 balls for his 107. But nevertheless, his obdurate effort had given West Indies a substantial platform, and by the close Nash had followed the instructions of his senior colleagues to the letter. With two days to go and a lead of 34, West Indies are in a stronger position than most of the Sabina Park faithful could have hoped for.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo