Five years ago, the ground that has hosted more record-breaking West Indies’ performances in its relatively brief existence witnessed its most unexpected and uplifting.
Soundly beaten in the first three Tests of the series by Australia, their successors as the game’s undisputed champions, the West Indies were challenged to amass a record 417 for a consolation victory at the last time of asking. No team, in 128 years of Test cricket, had ever climbed such a mountain. When the innings faltered at 74 for three early on the fourth morning, it was misplaced optimism to anticipate what followed.
On the back of hundreds from Ramnaresh Sarwan and Shivnarine Chanderpaul, with significant closing contributions from a novice teenager, Omari Banks, and a veteran late-comer, Vasbert Drakes, the West Indies not only achieved their goal but by the irrefutable margin of three wickets.
Any thought of victory on the last day of the third Test at the same ARG now is sheer delusion. Yet a draw would be equally satisfying and, in the context of the series with two Tests to follow, crucial.
Three wickets are already gone. A minimum of six hours and 90 overs have to be negotiated to keep eager opponents at bay. It is a daunting prospect but a few factors present hope.
The first is that the resuming batsmen this morning are the same Sarwan and Chanderpaul who were to the fore in 2004.
Sarwan is in prime form with 107 in the first Test, 94 in the first innings here and now unbeaten 47. There is no more immovable object in the contemporary game than Chanderpaul who regards batting through a day’s play as routine.
The second point is the state of a pitch hurriedly prepared as a last minute replacement for the disgraced Vivian Richards Cricket Ground whose sandpit of an outfield led to the switch of venues.
A few days work was understandably thought to be insufficient to get it properly ready. It has turned out to be no different from the batting paradises on which Brian Lara posted his record scores, 375 and 400 not out, Vivian Richards the fastest hundred and the West Indies their 2003 triumph over Australia.
Hopes are also lifted by the dubious state of health of England’s two leading bowlers, both of whom have wrecked more innings in the past than West Indians need to remember.
Steve Harmison, even at his fittest no longer the tormentor of the previous tour of the Caribbean in 2004, has been hindered by flu symptoms throughout the match while Andrew Flintoff is carrying a hip injury that limits his capacity for long, sustained spells.
England are still expected to win and level the series. Once Sarwan and Chanderpaul remain, all is far from lost.