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March 9, 2009
England 546 for 6 dec and 80 for 3 (Pietersen 34*, Collingwood 1*) lead West Indies 544 (Chanderpaul 133*, Nash 109) by 82 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Shivnarine Chanderpaul produced an unflinchingly obdurate innings of 147 not out, and Brendan Nash chipped in with his maiden Test century, as West Indies stood firm against a frustrated England bowling attack to manoeuvre themselves ever closer to their first series victory since 2004, and their first triumph over England since the days of Ambrose and Walsh in 1997-98. By the close of the fourth and penultimate day of the contest, West Indies were themselves scenting an incredible final-day victory push, as they reduced England to 80 for 3 in their second innings, with Fidel Edwards producing a vicious three-over burst in the fading light that culminated in the near decapitation of Kevin Pietersen with the final ball of the day.
Nevertheless, Pietersen endured to the close on 34 not out from 27 balls, and so long as he remains, all four results will be possible. He came to the crease after the twin dismissals of Owais Shah, who completed another disappointing match by feathering his fifth ball through to the keeper, and Andrew Strauss, who chipped a return catch to the one-legged Chris Gayle for 14, having earlier survived an incredible appeal for caught-behind that once again brought the referral system into the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Alastair Cook also fell before the close, caught-behind for 24 to a nick so thin that no sound could be heard when that decision too was put to the third umpire, while Paul Collingwood survived a squeakingly tight appeal for lbw when facing up to his first delivery from Ryan Hinds.
Then came Edwards' customary late onslaught, which not only put the wind up England's batsmen but also underlined the excellence of West Indies' earlier accumulation. They built on their overnight 349 for 4 to haul themselves to within two runs of England's first-innings total of 546 for 6 declared. England had begun the day with a measure of optimism, especially in light of the hamstring injury that had curtailed Gayle's innings on the second day, and a couple of early breakthroughs might have allowed them to force the pace of the game - instead they were roundly thwarted by Nash and Chanderpaul, who emulated their feat on the third evening by batting straight through the first session as they extended their fifth-wicket partnership to an imposing 234.
Nash, who has been a thorn in England's side all series, was the first to reach three figures, for the first time in Test cricket. His statistics prior to this innings had not made for fantastic reading, 129 runs at 32.25, but his crease occupation has known no bounds. After resuming on 70 not out, he latched onto any width to slam five more fours in his innings, all of them through the covers, before flicking a leg-stump delivery from Monty Panesar gleefully through midwicket to record his maiden Test century in only his eighth Test innings.
England's bowlers never gave up, although their frustrations came close to boiling over on a hot and arduous day. James Anderson bowled a particularly fine spell, finding prodigious reverse-swing with the old ball and finally earning his reward on the stroke of tea with the wicket of Denesh Ramdin, but it was Stuart Broad who came closest to losing his rag. His final figures of 3 for 67 in 30 overs did him immense credit, but he had to be withdrawn from the attack by his captain, Andrew Strauss, after exchanging angry words with Harper, who cruelly called wide when an effort ball zipped over the head of the ducking Nash.
Broad was eventually reintroduced after lunch at the opposite end to Harper, and all he needed was one delivery to make his mark. Nash faced up to a full-length delivery, angled into the stumps from round the wicket, and produced a rare error of judgement, as he nicked a simple catch to Collingwood at a wide second slip.
However, that breakthrough merely heightened the resolve of West Indies' other incumbent batsmen. Chanderpaul resumed on 52 not out at the start of play, and once again was content to nudge and fiddle his runs wherever they became available, having dropped anchor for more than six hours for his 133 not out. He did offer one opportunity, in the third over of the morning, when on 56 he flashed a cut at Panesar, but Matt Prior behind the stumps was unable to gather. Then, with his century still ten runs away, he appeared to edge a big ripping delivery from Graeme Swann, only for the third umpire to advise that the decision be overturned on appeal.
England were not impressed, least of all Prior, who endured another tough day behind the stumps. He showed some swift glovework to stump Ryan Hinds for 23 when he dragged his back foot out of the crease while attempting to swipe Swann for six, but by the time the innings closed, he had conceded 35 byes, second among Englishman to the 47-year-old Frank Woolley, who conceded 37 at The Oval in 1934. England's total extras, meanwhile, rose to 74 - only two away from India's all-time world record, which they set at Bangalore in December 2007.
Having survived that hairy moment in the nineties, Chanderpaul made no more mistakes. He crunched Swann off the back foot through mid-on to go to his hundred, then two balls later reminded everyone that he can bat in overdrive when the mood takes him, by slapping Swann over the midwicket fence for six. At the other end, however, England continued to chisel away - Gayle's resumed innings was brief as Strauss plucked an astounding one-handed catch at short cover, Edwards hung his bat out to Broad to be caught behind for 8, while Lionel Baker padded up to Swann to be sent on his way, again after a referral, for a third-ball duck.
That left England with 15 overs before the close in which to rebuild a lead that had been whittled down to a mere two runs. By the close, they were ticking along at a decent rate of 5.33 per over, but the three early wickets left plenty resting on the shoulders of Pietersen, Collingwood and Prior, the last three recognised batsmen. After three and a half days of less-than-gripping action, this match has finally burst into life.
A collection of fine cricket writing on great cricket feats, and never mind the omissions
Plays of the Day from the first ODI between South Africa and India in Johannesburg