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February 18, 2009
It was a far cry from the situation at Sabina Park two weeks ago, when England's all-out total of 51 was almost ten times less than that requirement. Nevertheless, if any two cricketers (Brian Lara excepted) know what is required on the uniquely benign surface at the ARG, it is Sarwan and Chanderpaul, who famously both made centuries at this venue in 2003, when West Indies compiled a world-record 418 for 7 to beat Australia.
Such thoughts (and more recent aberrations in Chennai) were doubtless lurking at the back of Strauss's mind as he contemplated the timing of his declaration. He eventually called his batsmen in midway through the afternoon session, and while that was considered to be over-cautious by some, the body language of England's talisman, Andrew Flintoff, was a valid reason for reticence. Labouring visibly with a hip injury, he didn't appear until No. 9 in the order, whereupon he scratched around for eight runless deliveries to record the third pair of his Test career, and though he did field at slip for the duration of the evening session, he contributed only three medium-paced overs out of 44.
In Flintoff's absence, England's remaining seamers plugged away diligently on a surface that offered little save the occasional degree of dead bounce on the now-familiar football ridge. West Indies batted with poise for the first hour of their rearguard, reaching 32 for 0 at tea, before Steve Harmison - from round the wicket - forced the first breakthrough of the innings when he pushed Devon Smith back into his crease and claimed an lbw decision from Daryl Harper that looked a touch high on first examination, but would have whipped off the leg bail.
The key scalp of the session, however, was the captain, Chris Gayle, who identified the spin of Graeme Swann as the most threatening weapon in England's armoury, and took it upon himself to bludgeon him out of the attack. Swann was smacked for five fours in as many overs, including a brace of cool drives through the covers and a remarkable one-handed sweep that was middled straight through square leg. But Swann, who - unlike the ousted Monty Panesar - shows no fear of being attacked, maintained his composure, offered up more air, and Gayle, with a fifty in sight, missed another attempted sweep and was trapped lbw for 46.
Ryan Hinds had time for a sumptuous on-drive, again off Swann, but before he could settle into a rhythm, he drove lazily at the fifth ball of a new spell from Stuart Broad, and picked out Owais Shah at short midwicket. At 96 for 3, West Indies were in some serious danger, but Sarwan set himself to counterattack, mainly through the covers with a range of his favourite cut shots, and Chanderpaul - after a rare first-innings failure - refused to chase any width as he dropped anchor in typical style for 18 not out from 41 balls.
Patience was the key for England, and to a man their bowlers performed their tasks well - even Flintoff, who was well below full pace in his three-over spell, but nevertheless tormented the top of Sarwan's off stump with his typical accuracy. They learnt a thing or two during their own second innings, which was a somewhat meandering affair, for all that their runs came at a reasonable lick - 4.42 per over by the time Harmison slogged the last ball of the innings for six.
For the first hour of the day, however, their fortunes were marshalled by the overnight pair of Alastair Cook and James Anderson, who acquitted himself well in a 53-ball 20 as nightwatchman, but whose mere presence kept the hard-hitting duo of Owais Shah and Kevin Pietersen holed up in the pavilion. Anderson eventually fell on the stroke of drinks to Daren Powell, whereupon Shah - in an admirable bid to push the score along - belted a long-hop clean over midwicket for six before losing his middle stump to Powell in an attempted repeat performance.
Pietersen chipped in with a hyperactive 32 from 46 balls, an innings replete with switch hits, the last of which led to his downfall as Benn found the outside edge of a slog over cover (or midwicket as it had become), while Paul Collingwood was busy during a 31-ball 34 before having his stumps splattered as he swung and missed against Ryan Hinds.
Cook, for the second time in the match, provided ballast to the innings with 58 from 103 balls, and though he made it ten half-centuries in a row since his last three-figure score, at Galle in December 2007, he could not this time be blamed for the manner of his dismissal, as Hinds found some leaping bounce out of the rough and a looping catch ballooned off the glove to Smith at slip.
The final overs of England's innings dribbled away in an unsatisfactory fashion. Prior made a run-a-ball 15 to justify his presence after running Broad out for 1, but Flintoff's awkward and revealing cameo suggested that they might have been better served with an earlier declaration, while leaving him back in the pavilion to get extra treatment from the physio. By tea, however, Strauss's reticence had been justified, as West Indies pushed through 14 overs without alarm.
The day's play took place against a somewhat subdued backdrop. Many of the England fans who had packed the stands on the first three days were unable to attend the day's play, as they had booked their holidays around the dates of the aborted second Test. The biggest queues of the day were not outside the ARG, but the various Allen Stanford-owned banks in and around St John's.
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