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March 2, 2009
Given that West Indies racked up a gargantuan 749 for 9 declared in their first innings, the blamelessness of this pitch was never in question, especially once the shine had gone off the new ball, and though Andrew Strauss and Owais Shah failed to capitalise on the conditions, there was never much danger of an upset once Pietersen had hit his stride. West Indies tried all manner of bowling combinations, and even brought their assistant coach, David Williams, out of retirement, as he stood at slip in what is believed to be his first stint in a Test match since England played on this very ground in 1997-98.
Despite the tedium of the final session, in which clock-watching was the over-riding concern of all parties, it was not an entirely fret-free day for England. They resumed in the morning on 6 for 0, with two recent precedents combining to undermine their collective confidence. The first was their catastrophic defeat at Adelaide in December 2006, when a first-innings total of 551 for 6 was not enough to ensure against defeat. The second, of course, came earlier on this very tour. After being bowled out for 51 in barely a session in Jamaica last month, all possibilities remained open.
Fidel Edwards certainly started the day as if he sensed an upset. The fastest bowler on display in this Test, and (in the first innings) the most luckless, Edwards beat Cook four times in his first over as he cranked his speed up to the early nineties and probed the channel outside off stump. At the other end, Daren Powell - sensing the vultures circling around his Test career - produced arguably his most disciplined spell of the series, as England fretted through their first half-hour.
But slowly but surely, the runs began to come, and as England whittled down the deficit, so their confidence began to grow. Cook, who has been troubled by the pull shot in this series so far, flapped one uneasily through leg gully but then middled two in a row to perfection as Edwards dropped short, while Strauss - dancing across his stumps in an unusually impish display - clipped a fine boundary off his hips to complete an over in which 17 runs flowed.
Strauss missed out on the chance to emulate his first-innings century when he chopped Gayle onto his middle stump for 38, while Shah completed an unhappy match by wearing a full-length delivery from Sulieman Benn on his toe to be sent on his way lbw for 21. But as soon as England overcame their own anxieties, the match was as good as dead.
Cook passed fifty for the fourth time in the series when he rocked back to cut Benn past point for four, but he didn't find his hundred quite so easy to bring up. With the spinners Gayle and Ryan Hinds bustling through their overs and spearing the ball into the base of the stumps, Cook was kept waiting on 99 for 11 deliveries and three overs before he finally pierced the field with a clip off the toes through midwicket. In the course of his innings, he became the youngest England batsman, at 24 years and 67 days, to reach 3000 Test runs.
Soon after his century Cook offered his first genuine chance of the innings when Devon Smith at slip dropped a routine chance off Hinds, but it was all academic. Pietersen brought up his fifty in the final over before the break, before England settled for batting practice ahead of their make-or-break match in Trinidad later this week. Given that it has been raining for two weeks down in Port-of-Spain, their prospects of salvaging a share of the series are not entirely promising.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?