HALF-CENTURIES from top-order batsmen Zak Crawley (76) and Dom Sibley (50) provided England with a welcome return to the crease on the fourth-day play at the Ageas Bowl, Southampton.
However, with five wickets falling in the final 75 minutes courtesy an in-form West Indies (WI) pace attack, the first Test now hangs in the balance with the final day’s play scheduled to bowl off on Sunday.
Replying to the hosts’ first innings knock of 204, the visitors were then dismissed for 318, holding a fair lead of 114 runs. When England began their chase on the third day, the Ben Stokes-captained squad closed on 15 without loss, trailing by 99 runs.
At the resumption on Saturday, England rallied to an enticing 284 for eight at stumps, setting up an exciting final day of action.
Rory Burns and Dom Sibley found scoring easier in Saturday’s morning session by adding 47 in the first hour. Spinner Roston Chase put an end to their opening partnership as he had Burns (42) caught by Joel Campbell.
Sibley batted patiently and secured his half centurion knock before he was handed a lifeline. Against pacer Shannon Gabriel, the English batsman dragged the ball onto his stumps only for the third umpire to relay that Gabriel overstepped the line by a fine margin. Two balls later, Gabriel tasted sweet revenge by having Sibley out caught behind by Shane Dowrich.
In came Joe Denly, who struggled early on, but grooved to 29 before chipping a Chase delivery into the hands of WI skipper Jason Holder (151/3).
Incoming batsman Crawley settled nicely and took a liking to the WI pace attack. Crawley struck eight fours in his knock of 76 from 127 balls. He scored the vast majority of his runs in front of the wicket as he and Ben Stokes built a 98-run partnership.
Holder silenced the pair as Stokes edged to second slip to fall to his opposite number for the second time in the match before Crawley offered a return catch to Joseph six balls later (253/5).
With the removal of the English top-order, WI began to press harder. Alzarri Joseph then had Joss Buttler bowled for just nine runs on the board (265/6). Gabriel was again unleashed in the last 30 minutes and had Dom Bess (three runs) and Ollie Pope (12) bowled to close the penultimate day on 284 for eight.