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March 1, 2009
Ramnaresh Sarwan made a magnificent career-best 291, and Denesh Ramdin converted his maiden Test century into a fill-your-boots 166, as West Indies expunged the memories of Saturday night's referral fiascos and powered into the ascendancy on a day of unquestioned dominance in Bridgetown. Responding to England's hefty first innings of 600 for 6 declared, Sarwan inspired his side to a gargantuan 749 for 9 declared - the ninth highest team total of all time, and West Indies' best since Brian Lara made his 400 in Antigua five years ago. Aside from the personal glory, Sarwan all but ensured that his team would carry their precious 1-0 series lead into the decider in Trinidad later this week.
Sarwan's masterclass, which began late on the second day after the dismissal of Chris Gayle, spanned 699 minutes and 452 balls, and came to an end in the closing overs of the afternoon session, when Ryan Sidebottom, armed with the third new ball, uprooted his off stump as he aimed a tired waft into the leg side. Though he missed out on becoming the 24th Test triple-centurion (and the second in a week after Younis Khan's 313 in Karachi), he surpassed his previous Test-best of 261 not out, against Bangladesh at Kingston in 2004, and equalled the career-best of one IVA Richards, whose finest hour also came against England, at The Oval in 1976.
If there was any doubt that he is in the form of his life, it has been banished now. Following on from his previous scores of 106, 94 and 107, Sarwan has now made 598 runs in the series at the incredible average of 149.50. This morning he resumed on 184 not out and quickly settled into that same easy rhythm that has characterised his series performance. A first-over mix-up was about as close as he came to giving his innings away, and for the best part of two sessions, England were powerless to force a breakthrough as their lead was whittled away in a ground-record sixth-wicket partnership of 261 with Ramdin, whose own quest for three figures was finally and emotionally achieved at the 56th attempt.
It was a superlative innings from Sarwan, who once again showcased his outstanding off-side repertoire. Indeed, it wasn't until he had passed 200 (which he brought up with a skimmed cut over the slips off James Anderson), that he scored his first leg-side four, a tickle off the pads as Sidebottom strayed in line. In all, Sarwan scored 26 of his 30 fours in the arc from third man to long-off, a testament to his composure at the crease and his eye for an opportunity whenever England's bowlers overpitched or offered too much width.
The pick of England's bowlers was Graeme Swann, who tweaked and toiled through 50.4 overs to pick up his second five-wicket haul in consecutive matches, although it was a tired and underwhelmed character who finally bowled Ramdin, four overs before the close, to claim the unflattering final figures of 5 for 165. He never stopped trying - floating and teasing with every variation in his armoury - and, having earned some good fortune from the umpires on the third day, he showcased his skill with a beautiful arm-ball that ended an entertaining bish-bosh half-century from Jerome Taylor, whose boundary-studded 53 demonstrated once again the appetite for a contest that all of a sudden exists in West Indies' lower-order.
The best of the rest was Anderson, but it was slim pickings on a strength-sapping day. He consistently targeted the stumps with a full fast length, but once again there was little support from his colleagues. Stuart Broad kept plugging away, but generally bowled too wide of the stumps to be a genuine threat, while Sidebottom, for all that he was up on pace from his lacklustre third-day efforts, still gave the impression of a man whose fitness is in doubt. In the field he remained a liability, never more embarrassingly than when he misjudged a top-edged pull from Ramdin, on 144 at the time, that plopped to the earth two metres to his right at deep midwicket.
Before his eventual breakthrough, Sidebottom gave Sarwan one other moment of alarm when, on 208, he appealed vociferously for lbw, a decision that, after some delay, Andrew Strauss finally agreed to put to a referral. It was, however, a poor use of England's one remaining trump card - Aleem Dar was correct in believing that the ball had pitched outside leg, and England came to rue that moment when, on 32, Ramdin played a rare loose shot down the leg-side, and appeared to edge Paul Collingwood into Tim Ambrose's gloves.
Ramdin was obduracy personified during the critical first hour (which began - lest we forget - with West Indies still trailing by 202) before blossoming as the day wore on. After resuming on 25 not out, he belied his reputation as a dasher to block his way through 40 subsequent deliveries for the addition of seven more runs, before finally late-cutting Collingwood for his first boundary of the day. By lunch, his shots had begun to flow - he cut Collingwood once again to third man to reach his first Test fifty since the tour of England in May 2007, then overhauled his previous Test-best of 71, which came in only his fourth Test, against Australia at Hobart in November 2005.
Ramdin was made to wait for his elusive hundred, as Strauss settled his side into a holding pattern, and rotated his part-time bowlers Collingwood and Ravi Bopara in a bid to force the mistake that never came. Eventually, Ramdin - facing up to the new ball - tucked Sidebottom off the pads to end his long, long wait, and immediately unfurled a scrap of paper as part of his celebrations, thanking Ian Bishop, David Williams and Sarwan himself for their support through the rough patches of his career.
There was very little rough on show for West Indies today, however. Their progress was serene as thoughts began to turn to records of every size and shape. Sarwan's eventual dismissal felt as much of a surprise as the wafted drive against Manoj Prabhakar that ended Graham Gooch's 333 at Lord's in 1990, but thanks to his 11-and-a-half-hour efforts, the remainder of the day was a joyride for a team released from any fear of failure.
Nobody exemplified this better than Taylor, who earlier this year belted a remarkable maiden Test century against New Zealand at Dunedin, having never before exceeded 31. He got the after-party started by clouting Sidebottom into the stands to take West Indies into the lead, and added two further sixes and six drilled fours in a 62-ball cameo. Ramdin meanwhile recognised an opportunity like few others in his Test career, and the final 66 runs after his century came at a run a ball.
Ramdin's eventual demise was perfectly timed to put the wind up England's openers. Two overs were all they were allotted at the tail-end of the day, but in that time Fidel Edwards cranked himself up to full volume to demonstrate that this pitch may be flat, but there's still life therein if you've got the pace to exploit it. England, as it has become abundantly clear over the past two days, do not, and without the ability to take 20 wickets in a match, their hopes of any share of the series are rapidly nosediving.
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