Strauss hundred keeps England on track
England 258 for 2 (Strauss 139*, Collingwood 54*) v West Indies
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Andrew Strauss took advantage of a defensive West Indian mindset to rack up his third first-day century of the series, and Paul Collingwood continued his fine vein of form with 54 not out, as England claimed the honours in the opening exchanges of the fifth and final Test in Trinidad. By the close, the pair were still in situ in an unbroken third-wicket partnership of 102, with Strauss standing tall on 139 not out, to add to his 169 in Antigua and his 142 in Barbados.
All the same, it was a unsatisfactory day's play, on yet another dispiritingly unresponsive surface. West Indies pulled their punches from the moment they lost the toss and were asked to field first. Without the injured Jerome Taylor, and having dropped their senior spinner, Sulieman Benn, to accommodate an extra batsman, their principal weapons were the medium-pacer, Brendan Nash, who increased his career overs tally from 27 to 43, without adding to his wickets tally of 1, and the part-time spin pairing of Ryan Hinds and Chris Gayle.
Still, Strauss could do no more than treat each ball on its merits, and that he did to fine effect, cracking 11 fours from 261 balls, including an early glut of his favourite cut shots and a selection of handsome drives. Until the arrival of Collingwood, his team-mates found the going rather less favourable, however. Alastair Cook looked good for his 12 runs before feathering an edge as Daren Powell found a hint of movement on off stump, while Owais Shah took 19 nervy deliveries to get off the mark, and had ground along to 29 from 115 balls before retiring hurt with a painful bout of cramp - the same problem that undermined his debut in Mumbai three years ago.
And then there was Kevin Pietersen, who has never been a fan of slow and stodgy surfaces. He came incredibly close to registering a third-ball duck when umpire Russell Tiffin initially upheld Nash's massive appeal for lbw, only for the decision to be overturned on referral. That reprieve, however, did him little good in the long-term. Facing up to Ryan Hinds in the over before tea, Pietersen was beaten by a beauty that spun past his outside edge, before being bowled straight through the gate by the very next ball, a Yuvraj Singh special that held its line to clip the top of middle.
Strauss, however, remained steady. Compared with his forceful affairs at the ARG and Bridgetown, this was a much more restrained innings. He was tempted with regular width by all the bowlers, especially the dobbly Nash, but recognised that today was not about making big statements, but about seeing the job through to the close - something he failed to do in either of his previous hundreds of the series.
He bided his time in the nineties before easing Gayle into the covers to bring up his 17th Test hundred, and his fifth in ten as captain - a role in which he now scored more than 1000 runs at an impressive average of 68.33. His only real alarm came on 47, when he played Nash late off the back foot through gully, only to be left stranded as Devon Smith pounced on the ball and shied at all three stumps … and missed. The running between the Middlesex pairing of Strauss and Shah was rarely less than haphazard throughout their 107-run stand, but it was Shah's inability to grip the bat, rather than any misjudgement, that eventually parted the pair in the 48th over.
Arguably, West Indies were bowling for run-outs from the moment Fidel Edwards completed his lacklustre first spell. Rare is the team that responds to a total of 749 for 9 declared by ditching a bowler and playing an extra batsman - Lendl Simmons in this instance, who made 282 in England's final warm-up in St Kitts last month. But then, rare is also what West Indies' series victories have become. They have not won a single rubber since Bangladesh toured the Caribbean in May 2004, 15 series ago, and this week they are quite happy to stick rather than twist.
England also revealed their gameplan at the toss, by handing a debut to the pacy Amjad Khan and a recall to their second spinner, Monty Panesar, in a bid to claim 20 wickets in a Test for the first time since September. In the circumstances, it would have been an opportune toss for Chris Gayle to win. Instead, England batted first for the fifth time out of five this winter, and by and large, made trouble-free progress.
Edwards did return late in the evening with the new ball to crank up his pace in a what-might-have-been four-over burst, but by that stage the die of the innings had been cast. West Indies have been braced on the back foot since before the first ball was bowled. England know that, no matter how healthy their overnight position may be, the bulk of their work has barely begun.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo