A lack of local supporters among the Bridgetown crowd has been a source of lament, but those who did pitch up on the third day were treated to a pair of fine centuries from Kraigg Brathwaite and Jermaine Blackwood that left England’s bowlers once again searching for answers on the road.
Brathwaite would struggle to make an all-time Barbados XI, such is the rich history of cricket on this island and the talent it has produced over the years. The West Indies captain is a seasoned opener nonetheless, and over the course of eight and a half hours he repelled allcomers, reaching the close unbeaten on 109 from 337 balls for what was his 10th Test century and his third against England.
By this stage he had lost Blackwood, his vice-captain, after an impressively restrained innings of 102 from 215 balls had been ended by the loopy off-spin of Dan Lawrence, lbw offering no shot. It was a bizarre miscalculation and a bonus for England’s weary players. But as their supporters headed off to the Friday night fish fry at Oistins, West Indies were 288 for four from 117 overs in reply to England’s 507 for nine declared, needing 20 more runs to avoid the follow-on.
The draw appears favourite on another docile pitch, one that will earn much-needed revenues for the Barbados Cricket Association. But England had a couple of opportunities to break a fourth-wicket partnership of 183 from 68 overs that started out from 101 for three in the morning session and led to some words being exchanged between Blackwood and Ben Stokes after tea, such was the frustration it created.
The first of these came when Blackwood was yet to score and was struck in front of the stumps by Stokes amid a thundering six-over spell during the second hour. With the naked eye it looked a strong shout – umpire’s call on impact with leg stump at worst – but Stokes dissuaded Root from sending the decision upstairs, only for the subsequent Hawk-Eye projection to return three reds.
The second was a moment of agony for one of England’s two debutants, Saqib Mahmood, who in the 93rd over sent a searing yorker to the base of Blackwood’s stumps on 65, only for replays to show he had overstepped. He was instantly consoled by Stokes who, along with Mason Crane, Tom Curran and Mark Wood in recent times, had also seen his maiden Test wicket scrubbed off for a no-ball.
Blackwood, it must be said, played superbly. The Jamaican right-hander has a reputation as a mercurial talent, something furthered by his dismissal on the final day in Antigua. But he got his head down here, offering stout defence and a keen eye for a single. He also laced 11 fours. At 4.57pm local time, as he guided Jack Leach for a single that sealed his third Test century, the celebration was joyous.
It was a template that had been set by Brathwaite at the other end. After resuming on 28, with West Indies 71 for one and still 436 runs in arrears, the 29-year-old has batted through four sessions without offering a chance in a way that befits his cool character. Even upon reaching his century – a first on his home ground in Test cricket – he lifted his bat with the air of a man who had simply completed that day’s Wordle.
The reprieves for Blackwood came with a sense of justice for West Indies too, having questioned the earlier removal of their rock from the first Test, Nkrumah Bonner. Given out lbw to Stokes for nine on the field, Bonner reviewed instantly amid a belief there was an inside edge. Both ultra-edge and replays hinted at vindication for the batter, only for the third umpire, Gregory Brathwaite, to decide he did not have conclusive evidence to overturn it.
Less debatable was England’s first incision when Shamarh Brooks, Brathwaite’s overnight partner, slapped a long-hop from Leach to backward point on 39 and trudged off bereft. With Leach having enjoyed some sharp turn early on, hopes rose that his deployment at one end, allied with the seamers rotating at the other, might see England chip away at more regular intervals.
As it was, Leach was only steady and Root’s seamers toiled. Chris Woakes appeared drained of confidence – never more so than after tea when Brathwaite drilled him for two fours off the second new ball – while England’s two newcomers, Mahmood and Matthew Fisher, bounded in with good energy but only fleeting threat when the ball offered a smidgeon of reverse for the former.
Root has lost his chief point of difference on this tour, too, with Wood now ruled out of the third Test in Grenada – and the Indian Premier League that follows – with the elbow injury he picked up in Antigua now requiring specialist opinion back in the UK next week. The slog will have to continue without him.