Grenada is playing host to an absorbing series decider between West Indies and England, if not always by way of quality out in the middle then certainly in terms of injecting some much needed Caribbean soul into proceedings.
The steel drummers have been wonderfully relentless and the locals have already turned up in good numbers for what is the island’s first Test match in seven years; the arrival of the weekend promises a further rise here, so too a match situation which, after two topsy-turvy days, appears on a knife edge.
Those who are drawn to the National Cricket Stadium in St George’s first thing will see West Indies resume on 232 for eight, with a lead of 28 over their visitors. It follows three hard-fought sessions of cricket that, like the previous day, saw a top-order collapse offset by a feisty rearguard down the order.
Joshua Da Silva, the young Trinidadian wicketkeeper who says he is loving every second of his first taste of a proper crowd in Test cricket, will start out unbeaten on 54 from 152 balls. He had played beautifully in the final session, marshalling stands of 49 with Alzarri Joseph (28) and then an unbeaten one of 55 with Kemar Roach, 25 not out, like an old pro.
Da Silva is a bit of an imposter at No 8, it must be said, having dropped down the West Indies batting card due to the inclusion of two all-rounders. But as an insurance policy, the 23-year-old has worked wonders here, arriving with his side on 95 for six – 109 runs behind – and changing the complexion of the day.
Obduracy was his default setting but when the right-hander took on the second new ball before the close, whipping Craig Overton through mid-wicket for a stylish four that brought up his fourth Test half-century, England’s attack looked ready to plunge their feet in buckets of ice overnight.
After the dull draws in Antigua and Barbados, the capricious nature of this surface has upped the entertainment levels significantly. And though England could not muster the same lavish sideways movement as their hosts found on the opening day, they discovered during the first two sessions that by smashing the ball hard into the pitch, its variable bounce brought rewards.
This was a tactic Chris Woakes used to good effect during an afternoon that saw West Indies crumble from 71 for three to 134 for seven. Sheepish after an all-too friendly new ball spell that induced the double teapot from Joe Root, and knowing this tour had so far done little to assuage talk of a poor overseas record, Woakes delivered a fine three-wicket burst that gutted the middle order.
First went Nkrumah Bonner, gloving behind after he failed to drop his hands while evading a bouncer, then Jason Holder for his third sorry dismissal in a row when he top-edged a pull shot third ball. Jermaine Blackwood might have felt a touch unlucky in a series of poor umpiring – some 16 decisions have been overturned – when he was lbw to one projected to merely scratch leg stump.
Ben Stokes, who capped the second session with a gifted removal of Kyle Mayers for 28, had led the way here first thing. Battling an angry left knee and hobbling all day, Stokes claimed the first precious breakthrough in the 17th over when he charged in from the Darbeau End – named after the verdant neighbouring hills that are pockmarked with colourful cottages – and shot one low into the pads of Kraigg Brathwaite on 17.
It was the simplest of lbw decisions for the umpire, Gregory Brathwaite, followed by an almost carbon copy grubber from Saqib Mahmood that sent Sharmarh Brooks packing for 13. Neither England bowler even felt compelled to appeal, proving Stuart Broad is here in spirit, at least, while he and Jimmy Anderson negotiate the fairways of St Andrews back home.
At the other end Overton followed the approach amid a fiery battle with John Campbell. The opener cracked a couple of lusty fours during Overton’s innocuous opening spell but the England man won round two with a knockout, twice hitting Campbell on the helmet with nasty bouncers before a short ball to the hip area was gloved behind on 35.
Overton was also the bowler when England picked up their solitary wicket of the evening session, Joseph having once again shown his fighting qualities during a restorative eighth wicket stand with Da Silva, only to attempt an ambitious slog down the ground on 28 and under-edge behind.
But as had been the case 24 hours earlier, when Mahmood and Jack Leach had turned the tide with a 90-run 10th-wicket stand in England’s 204 all out, the softening of this Dukes ball and miles in the legs of the bowlers saw conditions ease significantly for lower-order batters prepared to fight their corner; Roach, who drove Stokes through cover to bring up the lead, is certainly one of those.
England have the benefit of knowing West Indies must bat last on this surface but equally they must get a defendable target on the board first. Going by how the two top orders have fared so far, this won’t be entirely straightforward.