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February 28, 2009
Ramnaresh Sarwan kept his cool on a day when West Indian sensibilities were tested to the limit by a succession of howlers from the TV umpire, Daryl Harper. He cracked a magnificent 184 from 280 balls to keep alive his team's hopes of escaping from Barbados with the draw that will preserve their 1-0 series lead, and so ensure at least a share of the series going into next week's final Test in Trinidad. By the close, West Indies had come within two runs of saving the follow-on after England's first-innings 600 for 6 declared, but the talking points were not the runs they had made but the five wickets they had lost - all of them lbw, and all of them questioned or questionable in one way or another.
Following on from the dismissal of Chris Gayle on the second evening - rightly sent on his way after the onfield umpire had initially said not out - West Indies lost two further wickets in the morning session, both marginal calls as the spinner, Graeme Swann, claimed Devon Smith and Ryan Hinds to front-foot lbw appeals. Harper in the third umpire's booth had little say in the first and none in the second, but he was utterly in the thick of things for the third and fourth breakthroughs of the day. First, he sent Shivnarine Chanderpaul on his way for 70 to a delivery that would have cleared the stumps by six inches, before - and to total incredulity from players, spectators and pundits alike - he over-ruled the onfield umpire, Aleem Dar, to saw off Brendan Nash in a near identical fashion.
That such a man-made farce should detract from Sarwan's finest hour was unfortunate, but crucially he endured to the close with the diligent Denesh Ramdin alongside him on 25, and in so doing was able to soothe the mutinous mood among his team-mates and leave England with their fair share of the problems. Without the intercession of technology, it is hard to imagine how they could hope to claim the 20 wickets they need to salvage their series prospects. Without the injured Andrew Flintoff and the dropped Steve Harmison, they lacked the necessary cutting edge to overcome the docile nature of the pitch, not to mention the sweet strokeplay of a man in the form of his life.
In his previous three innings of the series, Sarwan racked up totals of 106, 94 and 107, but those were mere dress rehearsals for the performance that deserves - assuming it sets up the draw - to be recalled as his crowning glory of his career. After resuming on 40 not out, he produced a chanceless day's batting replete with sublime off-side strokeplay - all 19 of his fours were stroked through the covers or carved past backward point, and he added two sixes for good measure as well, a flog through midwicket off Swann and an uppercut over third man as James Anderson dropped short with the second new ball. He withstood a barrage of short balls in a hostile morning burst from Stuart Broad, and lost concentration for a split second after reaching his century when he edged the otherwise lacklustre Ryan Sidebottom through the vacant third slip. But for six hours he was immense, as he powered to within nine runs of 500 in the series.
West Indies were never more settled than in a gloriously controlled second session, in which Sarwan and Chanderpaul added 102 of their eventual 122-run stand. For Chanderpaul, it was business very much as usual. He cut the medium pace of Ravi Bopara to deep point to bring up his half-century from 80 deliveries, which was his 52nd such score in his Test career. Endlessly disciplined in his shot selection, he studded his innings with ten fours, including several help-yourself dabs behind square on the off-side, as well as a clunking pull through midwicket when Swann dropped short. He did survive one curious moment when, facing Bopara, he climbed into a rash cut and England instantly went up for a huge appeal. The umpire said no, and then, ultimately, so too did Andrew Strauss, who declined to use his one remaining referral despite the initial certainty his fielders had shown. In the final analysis, that moment barely registered in the wider puzzlement caused by the system.
Chanderpaul's eventual demise came in the fourth over of the new ball, when Anderson - working up a good head of steam - rapped him on the pads as he made to leave alone. Russell Tiffin initially gave the decision, but Chanderpaul didn't hesitate to challenge, and replays suggested he had a point, as the extra bounce of the new ball seemed to be carrying it clear of the stumps. However, the fudged nature of the ICC's experiment means that the TV umpire is not permitted to see the full Hawkeye replay before making his verdict. Harper used his judgement to influence the men in the middle, and his judgement was wrong.
One error might have been excusable, but what followed was not. Nash came hurtling out of the pavilion, and in a complete change of the tempo he has shown hitherto in the series, raced along to 33 from 43 balls in a blaze of counterattacking boundaries against the new ball. He uppercut Broad for a six over third man and punched four genuine fours and an inside-edge to fine leg before Swann was reintroduced to stem the tide. The move worked. Nash survived one referred lbw when Harper chose to stick to the benefit of the doubt that had been given by the on-field umpire, Dar, but two balls later, he felt obliged to intervene. Without any clear evidence that an error had been made, he should have let the decision be, but instead he recommended a reversal, and moments later the viewing public saw the full Hawkeye replay that showed the ball sailing over the stumps.
Before the over was out, West Indies' coach, John Dyson, was seen storming off to confront the match referee, Alan Hurst, but out in the middle, the one man who could truly atone for the errors maintained his sang froid. Sarwan signed off for the day by creaming two boundaries in the final over from Kevin Pietersen, to move to within 16 runs of his second double-century, and leave West Indies two strong days away from saving their second backs-to-the-walls match in a row.