The third Test in Grenada will reach its conclusion on the fourth day and what could easily prove Joe Root’s last as England captain following a batting collapse to top anything witnessed during his side’s winter of discontent.
On a stirring third day at the National Cricket Stadium in St George’s, it was the unlikely right-arm medium of Kyle Mayers that re-opened the wounds inflicted by the more celebrated Australian attack in the Ashes, claiming remarkable figures of five for nine to leave West Indies within touching distance of a 1-0 series win.
England have talked up their progress on this tour but will resume their third innings on 103 for eight and a lead of just 10 runs. They need the tail to wag for a second time in the match, much like it did for West Indies when Joshua Da Silva’s unbeaten 100 turned the tide in the morning and posted 297 all out for a lead of 93 runs. But, quite frankly, they look a beaten team.
Root has dutifully soldiered on with the captaincy due to a lack of alternatives but after 64 Tests he will do well to recover from this performance. Certainly when he was one of three England batters to succumb to Mayers in a collapse of four for 39 after lunch, his backfoot punch edged to slip, he looked spent.
The atmosphere was electric all day, the locals signing off from the working week, outnumbering the English for the first time in this series and watching West Indies follow Da Silva’s vigil with a rousing bowling performance that began when Zak Crawley recklessly drove the fired-up Jayden Seales to slip.
When Mayers followed his second removal of Root in the match by bowling Dan Lawrence for a duck – the No 4 shouldering arms to one that nipped back in – and had Ben Stokes caught behind on four the ball after Alex Lees had been dropped at slip, the steel band could easily have panned out the Last Post.
Not for the first time in the match, the softening of the Dukes ball brought with it a period of calm either side of tea. Lees shrugged off his life on nine and combined with Jonny Bairstow for 25 overs of resistance. But just when parity was in sight, Da Silva had a little word from behind the stumps to tell Bairstow, on 22 from 82 balls: “You’re batting slow now Jonny, like me.”
The very next over Bairstow perished attempting to address this with a pull shot off Alzarri Joseph that was under-edged to the devil on his shoulder. Ben Foakes, fresh to the crease at the end of a low-key return this tour, then compounded the breakthrough further five balls later, recklessly run out by the golden arm of Mayers from long leg attempting a needless second run.
Not done there, Mayers was then handed the ball by his captain and completed his maiden Test five-wicket haul when he bowled Lees for 31 with a grubber and then had Craig Overton caught at third slip. Chris Woakes, Jack Leach and Saqib Mahmood, the No 11, will need to put their superhero pants on first thing.
This carnage had followed a morning from Hades for Root’s guileless attack, West Indies resuming on 232 for eight and turning a slender lead of 28 into a potentially decisive number through the gimlet-eyed determination of Da Silva (54 not out overnight) and a 10th-wicket stand of 53 with Seales.
This was a day that Da Silva will never forget, the 23-year-old having shrugged off the pain of a blow to his hand from Chris Woakes and realised a dream first spawned when he was growing up in Port of Spain; as he slapped Craig Overton for back-to-back fours to bring up his century, the noise inside the National Cricket Stadium was akin to a calypso tent during carnival season.
Da Silva could barely contain his emotion, tears flooding to the eyes of this deeply religious wicketkeeper-batter as looked to the heavens and Seales, his old teammate from Queens Park Cricket Club, slapped him on the back. “Thanks to God, my parents and everybody supporting me,” Da Silva told the broadcasters at the change of innings. “It means the world to me.”
This emotion clearly got to Da Silva, who appeared to feather a catch down leg the very next delivery and walked off while making a cursory review. He had already crossed the rope and was back in the dressing room by the time it transpired there was no edge, with the crowd going berserk once more.
There was no impact on the final total but the reprieve allowed Da Silva to register red ink next to his name, Root bringing himself on for the next over and instantly removing Seales with a smart caught and bowled. Less clever was the England captain’s use of the review system, which saw all three burned on day two and then punished on the third morning when the newly arrived Seales survived an lbw shout from Mahmood.
The latest in a string of incorrect decisions during this series, it would have seen West Indies bowled out for 245 with a lead of 41 and Da Silva left high and dry on 65. As it was, the last wicket pairing chiselled away for another 23 maddening overs and West Indies batted 116.3 in all – the sixth time since the start of the Ashes that England have racked up triple-figures in the field.
After the early removal of Kemar Roach by Mahmood for a gutsy 25, England were largely bereft of ideas and met two cussed batters in Da Silva and Seales, with the latter – first-class average of 3.3 – defending gutsily but also enjoying one moment of fun when he launched the ineffective Leach back for six.
It may have felt like a low moment for England in a winter boasting a good few of them, but the worst was still to come.