Should West Indies show the same kind of persistence on day five as they did on day four, they should emerge victorious on Sunday evening. They have bossed England for most of this first Test at the Ageas Bowl and now, trailing by 170 but with just two second innings wickets to take, are on the eve of what will be a famous victory.
“It's been a special day for them”, said head coach Phil Simmons of his bowlers. Their fight was commendable, picking off batsmen throughout a day that saw England start with a deficit of 99 which was chipped off with the kind of ease that suggested impending dominance.
But Shannon Gabriel (three for 62), Roston Chase and Alzarri Joseph’s two apiece and Jason Holder’s crucial dismissal of Ben Stokes ensured that was not to come. What could have been an insurmountable fourth-innings chase will now, at worst, be a tricky one. “It was difficult in the morning and also between lunch and tea but in the evening they came up trumps because they persisted.”
The most important period was when Stokes (46) and top-scorer Zak Crawley (76) had moved to 98 in their fourth-wicket stand, with a 135 lead that was on its way to being stretched. But Holder’s line outside off stump from around the wicket did for Stokes for the second time in the match before Crawley was caught by Joseph in his follow-through. Two dismissals in seven balls and two new batsmen stemmed the flow and were the start of five wickets lost for just 30 runs.
Simmons recognised this as the key moment of the day, as indeed did Crawley.
“It was massively disappointing,” said the Kent 22-year old who registered his second Test half-century. “Especially to see the other wickets fall tonight. As soon as Ben got out it was clear I had to try and bat through to the end. To get out the next over was extremely disappointing. Hopefully if I get another chance to do that I can do better.”
Neither side will have a totally sound sleep, but the West Indies will no doubt be the calmer of the two. For Simmons, the way to victory is crystal clear.
“All you can do is get the two remaining wickets and bat normally. If we bat for five hours tomorrow to chase 180-190 it's a normal batting day, not a chase where you have to go at it. We hope whatever happens in the morning and whatever roller is used, we can get off to a good start.
“Whatever is put in front of us, we have a day to bat. The confidence from the way he batted in the first innings - the attitude - is going to be a huge plus, whether it's 170 or 190. So I have confidence in that.”