Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket
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West Indies 375 (Bonner 123, Brathwaite 55) and 147 for 4 (Bonner 38*, Holder 37*) drew with England 311 (Bairstow 140, Seales 4-79) and 349 for 6 dec (Crawley 121, Root 109)
Nkrumah Bonner and Jason Holder drew the sting of England's depleted attack in a tense final session of the first Test in Antigua, as their 80-run partnership, spanning 34.4 resolute overs, thwarted a well-judged declaration from Joe Root that briefly looked set to deliver an unlikely victory in a previously bat-dominated contest.
After Root himself had become England's third centurion of the match - a feat they last achieved on the tour of India in 2016-17 - West Indies were left needing a stiff but tantalising target of 286 in a minimum of 71 overs, against an attack lacking the services of Mark Wood, the man whose habitual 90mph pace might have been expected to unlock an unforgiving surface.
Instead, England's fight was carried by the disciplined, probing spin of Jack Leach, who bowled with great accuracy, and with five men camped around the bat for the majority of the final session, but with little luck to finish with 3 for 57 in 30.1 overs. Ben Stokes was England's other main threat as he once again belied the pre-match caveats about his fitness to bang out 13 more overs for 24, but having prised out the key early wicket of Kraigg Brathwaite, he too was unable to get the better of a dogged fifth-wicket pair.
After 21 wickets had fallen on the first four days of the match, the likelihood of England forcing victory on an unforgiving surface at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium had always been slim. And slim seemed to have left town when it was confirmed that Wood - who had been withdrawn from the attack before lunch on day three - would play no further part in the match, after reporting "acute pain" in his injured right elbow during a nets session before the start of play.
With Wood's participation in the rest of the series now in serious doubt, it would have been understandable had England chosen to shut up shop from the outset, after resuming their second innings with a stalemate at their mercy on 217 for 1. However, in adding a further 132 runs in 25 overs of an extended morning session, the evidence from the day's outset was that England always intended to have a dart at West Indies' brittle batting in the final two sessions.
By the time Bonner had batted for 493 balls across his two innings, and found typically indomitable support from Holder - a man who never needs to be asked twice to produce his best performances against England - West Indies had located a backbone to reinforce their remarkable home record in the Wisden-turned-Richards-Botham-Trophy.
Either side of the tea break, however, it had threatened to be a very different story. After a misleadingly calm start to their chase, in which Brathwaite and John Campbell had compiled their second fifty stand of the match, West Indies shipped four wickets for eight runs in 9.3 overs to reawaken the sort of jitters that their opponents have known only too well in recent times.
Suddenly, from 59 for 0, with the vague prospect of hunting down a run-a-ball asking rate in an ODI-style fight to the finish, West Indies were in the soup at 67 for 4, with their only remaining objective being survival - a state of affairs that allowed England to shelve any reticence in their field placings, and throw everything they had into the pursuit of those final six wickets.
The dismissal of Brathwaite was the trigger for West Indies' wobble for he had been, by a distance, the more fluent of West Indies' two openers. Aside from one atrocious hack across the line at Leach, for which he had deserved to be bowled for 24, Brathwaite found a comfortable balance between stickability and intent to set West Indies' tempo with a solid knock of 33 from 82 balls.
Inevitably, however, it was Stokes who dislodged him. After his first-innings exertions, Stokes had been held back until the 24th over - ostensibly waiting until the ball was ready to reverse-swing - and with his seventh delivery, he skidded a full-length nipbacker into Brathwaite's shin, to send him on his way for 33 from 82 balls.
Suddenly, West Indies' serenity had been shaken, and Campbell never looked like filling the void. Leach in particular had him in his pocket - he should have been caught for 1 from 19 balls, when he skied a leading edge to Crawley, running back from slip, and the solitary boundary of his innings, an attractive drive through the covers off Leach, came one ball after he had skimmed a less convincing hack over the head of Stokes at mid-off.
But on 22, Campbell's luck ran out. Needing to up his own tempo now that the captain was gone, he gave Leach the charge but scudded a flat drive towards Craig Overton at mid-off, who swallowed the chance comfortably above his head to leave West Indies in a bit of strife on 59 for 2.
With tea looming, Leach and Stokes turned the screw. The new men, Shamarh Brooks and Bonner were limited to two runs in the space of six overs before, in the final over before the break, Brooks swept Leach for a pressure-relieving four, then fenced at his very next ball, for Crawley to make amends with a sharp low take at slip.
At 65 for 3, that wicket was perfectly timed to scramble the mind of the incoming Jermaine Blackwood - a man who, moments earlier, might have priming himself to be the hero, Ageas Bowl 2020-style, in an improbable run-chase. Now his only real role was to loiter, and that notion seemed to fry his synapses in the interval. Three balls after the resumption, he flung his bat through a revolting hack to nothing, and was pinned lbw for 2 to set the cat fully among the pigeons.
Holder and Bonner, however, could not be dislodged. The former used his extraordinarily long levers to stretch down the pitch at every opportunity, smothering Leach's threat with an ever-broad bat; the latter hung back on the crease, playing off the pitch and trusting his eye to get out of intermittent trouble.
Aside from Leach and Stokes, however, there wasn't enough threat from the rest of England's attack. Even with Ben Foakes standing up to the stumps, there was nothing about Chris Woakes' diligent methods that looked like forcing a wicket, and perhaps the best of the rest were the speculative offbreaks of the squirrel-in-a-blender, Dan Lawrence, who came inches from cleaning up Bonner, on 9, with the biggest turner of the match.
England did eventually think they'd broken the stand … but only for a split-second, for Bonner, on 25 at the time, was already grinning as he signalled for a review because he knew he'd feathered an inside-edge from Craig Overton into his pads.
The biggest what-if for England, however, came when Holder, on 13, and with a dicey 22 overs still in the bank, was pinned on the back leg, offering no stroke to a faster, flatter ball from Leach. England, with one review up their sleeve, and perhaps mindful of what had happened at Headingley in 2019 when Australia got too eager to play their get-out-of-jail card, decided discretion was the better part of valour. Replays showed that the ball was smashing leg, and Holder wouldn't offer a better opportunity for 59 remaining balls.
Despite being thwarted at the death, there were plenty of positives for England to take away from the first five days of their so-called red-ball reset. With centuries already in the bag for Jonny Bairstow and Crawley, the captain Root made it three for the match in the morning session - his 24th in Test cricket and 13th as captain, overtaking Alastair Cook's previous record. After a stellar year in 2021, it was Root's first of the new calendar year, and his first in his new berth at No. 3 as well.
But in strolling off the pitch with an indomitable stand to their names, and with West Indies' unbeaten run in Tests against England in Antigua extended into an 42nd year, Bonner and Holder did more than enough to remind their opponents that they are in a tussle once again in this series, with their next challenge looming large in Barbados next week.
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