NORTH SOUND, Antigua, CMC – Opener Devon Smith stroked his first half-century since his return to Tests last December but Darren Bravo’s demise, half-hour before the close, left West Indies with a mountain to climb to win the opening Test against England.
At the close of yesterday’s penultimate day, West Indies were 98 for two in pursuit of 438 for victory, still 340 runs adrift at the Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium.
The left-handed Smith was carrying West Indies’ fight with a fine, unbeaten 59 and was accompanied by Marlon Samuels on two.
Left with five overs to face before tea after England declared their second innings on 333 for seven just over half-hour before the interval, West Indies were quickly in trouble when opener Kraigg Brathwaite fell in the second over.
He failed to keep down a short ball from seamer Stuart Broad and popped a regulation catch to Joe Root at short leg, with the score on seven.
However, Smith and Bravo then put their heads down to add an important 83 for the second wicket, as West Indies went to tea at nine for one and then batted safely through the first hour of the final session.
Bravo was looking at ease when he drove at the first ball of part-time off-spinner Joe Root’s second over, and was spectacularly caught one-handed by Barbados-born Chris Jordan diving to his right at first slip.
The left-hander faced 87 balls and hit three fours, and his dismissal put England in an even stronger position to pull off a win on Friday’s final day.
Earlier, Gary Ballance struck his fourth Test hundred – a knock of 122 – as England, resuming the day on 116 for three, enforced their dominance over the next two sessions.
The left-hander faced 250 deliveries and counted 11 fours and two sixes in just under 5-1/4 hours at the crease, and shared to key partnerships to keep England on top.
He put on 114 for the fourth wicket with Root who hit a breezy 59 off 79 balls with five fours and a six, to post his second half-century of the game.
Jos Buttler hit an up tempo unbeaten 59 from 56 balls to give the visitors quick runs down the order.
When Root was bowled, dragging on to fast bowler Jason Holder on the stroke of the first hour of the morning, Ballance and Ben Stokes combined to post 60 for the next wicket.
Stokes, not out on 33 at lunch, made 35 before missing a charge at left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn and going stumped off the fourth ball after the interval.
Unbeaten on 92 at the break with England on 224 for four, Ballance reached his landmark in the seventh over after lunch when he punched Benn down the ground for four.
Along with Buttler, he then went on the attack, clearing the ropes at long on with part-time off-spinner Samuels before finally holing out to Jermaine Blackwood at deep mid-wicket off Benn.
Buttler, who smashed five fours and two sixes, put on a brisk 52 off 40 deliveries with Chris Jordan (13) before Jordan holed out to Darren Bravo at deep mid-wicket off seamer Kemar Roach, a delivery after he was bowled by a no-ball.
Pacer Jerome Taylor finished with two for 42 while Benn picked up two for 115.
Brathwaite’s early demise put West Indies immediately on the backfoot but Smith and Bravo buckled down in a partnership headlined by discipline and positive stroke-play.
Smith has so far hit seven fours off 131 deliveries while Bravo was fluent in gathering three boundaries off 87 balls.
Both batsmen were watchful immediately after tea but progressively grew in confidence and opened up to play several handsome shots.
Smith, who only returned to Windies colours for the recent tour of South Africa following a three-year break, showed his strength on both sides of the wicket.
He clipped seamer Jordan to the mid-wicket boundary and followed up by smashing a short ball from Broad to the ropes in the same area a couple overs later, to move into the 30s.
In the bowler’s next over, he collected another boundary through point and brought up his fifty with a streaky four to third man off off-spinner James Tredwell.
Bravo looked in good touch, stroking Broad to the cover boundary and lifting Tredwell over extra cover, for two of his fours.
With England running out of ideas, captain Alistair Cook turned to Root and he struck the key blow with just his seventh ball, getting one to turn out of the rough and induce Bravo’s indiscretion.