SO severely tested on the last day of the ARG Test, the West Indies’ resilience was again placed under severe strain at Kensington yesterday.
They came through it with credit. But for a spate of fielding errors it would have been more cheering than that and England would not be in the same powerful first day position as they were at the same point in the previous Test.
For the first two sessions, on a pitch apparently cloned from those of an earlier generation that had yielded the triple hundreds of Hanif Mohammed and Lawrence Rowe and eight doubles in the six Tests between 1958 and 1974, their bowlers toiled without reward under a blazing sun and with no cooperation from their hard-handed team mates.
By tea, England’s openers Andrew Strauss and Alistair Cook had raised 221 without the slightest hint that they would ever get out. When Strauss offered a couple of chances off the outside edge at 50 and 53, they were wasted by leaden-footed slip catchers.
Only Fidel Edwards, as fiery and as energised as ever, managed to cause any discomfort to the pair.
Jerome Taylor was steady enough without anything like the menace of his first Test devastation at Sabina. Daren Powell’s nervous spells confirmed that he was overly conscious of the widespread calls for his head. Sulieman Benn, as in Antigua, was uncomfortable against the left-handers.
Another mammoth total, even beyond the ARG’s first innings 566 for nine declared, loomed.
The second interval arrived not a moment too soon. Brief as it was, it offered time to review and regroup.
The effect was apparent on resumption. The bowlers, Powell, Taylor, Benn and the little left-arm trundler Nash, tightened lengths and lines. Runs that flowed from the bat like the Banks down Barmy Army throats earlier in the afternoon dried up.
An unplayable inswinging yorker from the maligned Powell that upended Strauss and scattered his stumps was the timely inspiration that sparked the revival.
Edwards had repeatedly examined Cook’s penchant for the hook. More than once he was thumped to the boundary but twice he was unlucky not to achieve his purpose as uncontrolled, top-edged shots flew over keeper and to fine leg.
As Cook approached the hundred he hasn’t managed in a year and a half, Powell and Taylor kept feeding his favourite, most dangerous, stroke.
He was 85 when Benn was late in moving from deep square-leg to another mistimed hook, the ball dropping at his feet. At the opposite end, he snicked Taylor between keeper and slip.
Still the bowlers kept coming at him and, when six short of his cherished landmark, he miscued for the last time off Taylor, Ryan Hinds lunging to latch on to a diving catch at mid-wicket. With the left-handers out of the way, Benn teased and tested Owais Shah with his control, turn and bounce and was rewarded with an edged cut to slip.
With 81 overs complete and the new ball available, three wickets had fallen for 38 from 23 overs after tea.
It left Gayle with a delicate choice to make – to leave well enough alone and wait until the morning to claim the cherry or two, get two bites of it by taking it before the end.
He chose the latter option. It was a decision that was, yet again, betrayed by a fielder.
Edwards, back for a final burst, bounced, Pietersen hooked and the ball spiralled towards long-leg where Taylor raced forward. Weary after his exertions, he was a little late off the mark and the chance eluded his grasping fingers.
It was a critical miss. For the first time, Edwards responded to his frustrating day a couple of bouncers that sailed over Denesh Ramdin to the boundary as thousands of England voices roared their delight.
Pietersen was 20 at the time. He resumes this morning a dangerous adversary.