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February 27, 2009
If England's cricketers thought they had batted with intent on the first day at Bridgetown, their efforts were nothing compared to the free-flowing onslaught they produced on the second. Ravi Bopara led the way with a classy 104 from 143 balls, his first century in international cricket, and Paul Collingwood (96) and Tim Ambrose (76 not out) made sizeable marks in the scorebook as well, as England built on their overnight 301 for 3 to add 299 more runs at a rate of nearly five an over.
By the time Andrew Strauss declared, early in the final session, England's total of 600 for 6 was their highest since the Oval Test against South Africa in September 2003. Nevertheless, West Indies responded impressively with a volley of strokes before the close, in particular from the in-form Ramnaresh Sarwan, as they made light of the early dismissal of Chris Gayle, via a referred lbw in James Anderson's third over.
It was a breezy day's batting from both teams, but particularly England, who had to withstand a feisty morning spell from the luckless Fidel Edwards before cashing in on a lacklustre showing from the remainder of the West Indian bowling attack. As on the first day, they lost only three wickets - Kevin Pietersen was removed in the first hour of the day for 41, plumb lbw to Edwards despite his self-indulgent wasting of a referral, and Edwards struck again in the afternoon when Collingwood, sizing up his second hundred in consecutive matches, slogged a length delivery to deep point.
Bopara eventually gave Edwards a richly deserved third when, only three balls and one boundary after reaching his hundred, he took on the hook and picked out Jerome Taylor on the fine-leg boundary. The identity of the catcher, however, was rather ironic, for it was Taylor who dropped the clanger that might have spared West Indies much of their day's toil. Yesterday, Edwards had Andrew Strauss dropped at first slip by Gayle on 58, an error that cost his side 84 runs. Today, Taylor should have clung onto a skied pull when Bopara had made just 4, but the chance went sprawling, and England's new No. 6 went on to add exactly 100 more to his total.
This is Bopara's first Test since he finished the tour of Sri Lanka in December 2007 with three ducks in a row, but whereas on that occasion the wiles of Muttiah Muralitharan were too much for him, this time he found the pace-dominated West Indies attack much more to his liking. He used his wrists coolly to work the gaps in the leg side, while Taylor, when he wasn't dropping catches, was noticeably off the pace with the ball. He looked a shadow of the superhero who destroyed England at Sabina Park, and Bopara flogged him through midwicket twice in two balls, as he surpassed his previous Test-best of 34, at Kandy in 2007.
When Bopara tried the same against Edwards, however, the results were somewhat different. One pull sailed high off a top-edge and all the way for six, another in Edwards' next over was completely misjudged, and rattled him a painful blow under the eye. A lengthy break for treatment ensued, in which time Edwards had to be discouraged from having a word or two with the batsman. But Bopara was not discouraged in spite of his shiner, and carried on getting into line to deliveries that were well in excess of the 90mph mark.
He went to lunch on 46 not out, and soon after the resumption, he tickled a leg-stump delivery from Sulieman Benn down to the fine-leg boundary to reach the first notable landmark of his Test career. Using his wrists to their full supple effect, he traded singles with his partner Collingwood throughout a 149-run stand, and continued to pick the right ball to attack. Edwards dropped short and was rifled through the leg-side; Sulieman Benn served up a waist-high full-toss that was dispatched through midwicket.
After reaching tea on 88 not out, Bopara clicked through the nineties with a cool lofted drive off Taylor, before easing a bouncer from the ever-threatening Edwards into the leg-side to reach three figures. He removed his helmet and saluted the crowd with a modest wave and a gentle impersonation of the Caribbean's current superstar, Usain Bolt - a mock comb of the hair and a bow-and-arrow salute to the dressing-room.
Bopara's main sidekick was Collingwood, who built on his impressive century in Antigua last week with another powerfully constructed innings. His favourite shot of the day was the pull, which he used to great effect to pick off two of his 12 fours, and he also drove Edwards delightfully down the ground for arguably the classiest boundary of his innings. But just when it seemed nothing could interrupt his flow, along came the temptation of a fourth century in 11 innings.
Back into the attack came Edwards, and with four needed for the hundred, Collingwood chose the wrong ball to clobber over the covers. Instead it arced off a leading edge, straight down the throat of Nash on the point boundary, and - just like Pietersen, Sarwan and Alastair Cook before him in this series - he was left ruing one attacking stroke too many with three figures around the corner.
Nevertheless, his departure did nothing to interrupt England's momentum, because out of the blocks burst Ambrose, a bundle of diminutive intent, eager to make up for lost time in his career. Matt Prior's paternity leave has given him a chance to make amends for a disappointing summer, and by the time of the declaration, he was motoring on 76 not out from 95 balls, with eight fours and two slapped sixes over midwicket off Ryan Hinds. Hinds could have dismissed him for a third-ball duck had Denesh Ramdin clung onto a top-edged cut, but as with so many chances in this match, the opportunity was lost, and England marched onwards and upwards.
All the same, West Indies clearly recognised a docile pitch when they saw one, for their response was full of controlled aggression, as Sarwan and Devon Smith pushed through to the close with a 72-run stand. They had to withstand a superb opening spell from James Anderson, who swung the ball both ways at will and removed Gayle for 6 with a late-inducker that the referral showed would have taken out leg stump. But at the other end, Ryan Sidebottom couldn't find the right length to complement his prodigious swing, and both Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad were easily repelled. England have a total to envy, but West Indies have set themselves to match it, and so preserve their 1-0 series lead.
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