Gayle falls for 317 as stalemate beckons
West Indies 565 for 5 (Gayle 317, Chanderpaul 82*, Bravo 10*) trail South Africa 588 for 6 dec (Kallis 147, Prince 131, Smith 126, de Villiers 114) by 23 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out
For the second time in consecutive matches at the Antigua Recreation Ground, a West Indian batsman set his sights on the individual world Test batting record. But where Brian Lara achieved his goal, gloriously, against England last April, today Chris Gayle fell valiantly short, caught at slip off Monde Zondeki for 317, from 483 balls, with 37 fours and three sixes. With his departure went the last lingering remnants of interest in a match that has been dead from the moment that West Indies avoided the follow-on.
By the close, West Indies had proved more than a match for South Africa's first innings efforts, closing on 565 for 5 in reply to 588 for 6 declared, with Shivnarine Chanderpaul closing in on the seventh century of a grossly unequal contest between bat and ball. At least the Antiguan crowd was enlivened by this state of affairs, as they revelled in their ground's uncanny ability to attract record-breaking performances. But for the true fan of Test cricket, there was little pleasure to extract from a match that offers nothing but individual achievements.
Of course, none of this can detract from the sheer willpower that went into Gayle's monument of an innings. After yesterday's pyrotechnics, it was a reformed character who emerged from the dressing-room to resume on his overnight 184 not out. Having blazed to 150 from 149 balls in yesterday's onslaught, Gayle needed another 313 deliveries to double that tally, as the enormity of his opportunity dawned on him.
Eventually, Gayle chipped a single to midwicket in the final over before tea to bring up his maiden Test triple-century, and by the time he succumbed to fatigue in the final session, he had recorded the 14th highest score in Test history, surpassed Bradman's 299 not out as the highest scorer against South Africa, and left a litany of West Indian greats - including Viv Richards, George Headley and Frank Worrell - trailing in his wake. Tellingly, however, Gayle's 317 was only the third-highest score in 20 Tests in Antigua.
Gayle has never been renowned for his stickability, but today he was determined to utterly immoveable, so much so that with every passing drinks break, the South African fielders' refreshments became more and more elaborate, with deck chairs, umbrellas and a full picnic hamper making their way to the middle. They, unlike England before them, had no fear of defeat to enliven their efforts, having already posted a formidable total in the first innings.
This is a pitch that makes bowlers contemplate early retirement, so it was to South Africa's great credit that they managed to engineer a double-breakthrough in the morning session. A mere 331 runs and 93 overs after Wavell Hinds had been dismissed, Ramnaresh Sarwan drove on the up to point and stood his ground - scarcely able to believe he had given it away on this pitch. Eighteen runs later, Lara was also gone. It may have been his 36th birthday, but a position of 345 for 2 was not the sort of situation that was going to gird his loins, and after 29 scratchy deliveries, he deflected a jubilant Zondeki into Boucher's gloves for 4.
Zondeki, in fact, was so overjoyed at claiming such a significant scalp that he forgot to turn around to the umpire in his appeal, earning a mild rebuke from Billy Bowden and light-hearted word from his captain. It was a good-natured situation, however. The batsmen had clearly found a pitch to smile about and now the bowlers had realised that the only thing to do was laugh.
Gayle, meanwhile, continued to tackle heights that he had never before contemplated - his previous best in Tests was 204 and his highest first-class innings was 259 not out. But at least he had a man alongside him who was familiar with the situation. Chanderpaul had been Lara's wingman during his 375 on this very ground in 1994, and by tea, the pair had added 127 for the fourth wicket, with Gayle's stand-and-deliver cover-drive providing him with the bulk of his runs.
Aside from an alarm off his first ball of the day, when Gayle inside-edged Shaun Pollock past his off-stump for four, he had just one notable let-off as he approached the summit. On 281, Gayle reverse-swept at Nicky Boje and was struck in line with his limbs in a tangle. Umpire Bowden, however was unmoved, and for South Africa the moment was lost. The tension mounted as Gayle became entrenched in the 290s, but it was an unnatural tension that did not do justice to his individual achievement.
With one irrelevant day of this Test remaining, the need for the Antigua pitch to be relaid has never been more aptly showcased. Gayle had 12 runs from four innings coming into this match. He leaves with a sprinkling of immortality. Kudos to the man, but a pox on this pitch.
Wavell Hinds c & b Ntini 0 (14 for 1)
Early on defensive push, taken one-handed in followthrough
Ramnaresh Sarwan c Prince b Zondeki 127 (345 for 2)
Loose drive on the up, scooped off turf at point
Brian Lara c Boucher b Zondeki 4 (363 for 3)
Attempted glide to third man, extra bounce, simple edge
Chris Gayle c Smith b Zondeki 317 (512 for 4)
Wide delivery, sliced drive to slip
Narsingh Deonarine c Boucher b Smith 4 (535 for 5)
Round the wicket, attempted cut, maybe unfortunate
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Cricinfo