North Sound (Antigua), April 17:
Opener Devon Smith stroked his first half-century since his return to Tests last December but Darren Bravo’s demise, half-hour before the close, left the West Indies with a mountain to climb to win the opening Test against England here.
At the close of penultimate day of action on Thursday, the West Indies were 98 for two in pursuit of a 438-run target for victory — still 340 runs adrift at the Vivian Richards Cricket Stadium, reports CMC.
The left-handed Smith was carrying West Indies’ fight with a fine, unbeaten 59 and was accompanied by Marlon Samuels on two.
Left with five overs to face before tea after England declared their second innings at 333 for seven just over half-hour before the interval, the West Indies were quickly in trouble when opener Kraigg Brathwaite fell in the second over.
He failed to keep down a short ball from seamer Stuart Broad and popped a regulation catch to Joe Root at short leg, with the score on seven.
However, Smith and Bravo then put their heads down to add an important 83 for the second wicket, as the West Indies went to tea at nine for one and then batted safely through the first hour of the final session.
Bravo was looking at ease when he drove at the first ball of part-time off-spinner Joe Root’s second over, and was spectacularly caught one-handed by Barbados-born Chris Jordan diving to his right at first slip.
The left-hander faced 87 balls and hit three fours, and his dismissal put England in an even stronger position to pull off a win on Friday’s final day.
Earlier, Gary Ballance struck his fourth Test hundred — a knock of 122 — as England, resuming the day on 116 for three, enforced their dominance over the next two sessions.
The left-hander faced 250 deliveries and counted 11 fours and two sixes in just under five-and-half hours at the crease, and shared three key partnerships to keep England on top.
He put on 114 for the fourth wicket with Root who hit a breezy 59 off 79 balls with five fours and a six, to post his second half-century of the game.
When Root was bowled, dragging on to fast bowler Jason Holder on the stroke of the first hour of the morning, Ballance and Ben Stokes combined to post 60 for the next wicket.
Stokes, not out on 33 at lunch, made 35 before missing a charge at left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn and going stumped off the fourth ball after the interval.
Unbeaten on 92 at the break with England on 224 for four, Ballance reached his landmark in the seventh over after lunch when he punched Benn down the ground for four.
Jos Buttler hit an unbeaten 59 from 56 balls to give the visitors quick runs down the order.
Pacer Jerome Taylor finished with two for 42 while Benn picked up two for 115.
Brathwaite’s early demise put thr West Indies immediately on the backfoot but Smith and Bravo buckled down in a partnership headlined by discipline and positive stroke-play.
Smith has so far hit seven fours off 131 deliveries while Bravo was fluent in gathering three boundaries off 87 balls. (IANS)