Dashing all-rounder Ben Stokes helped rebuild England’s innings with a defiant undefeated half-century. (GPs)
West Indies lost the plot in the final session, allowing Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes to cash in with unbeaten half-centuries, as England made a strong finish to day one of the final Test yesterday in St Lucia.
The hosts, having already secured the coveted Wisden Trophy with crushing wins in the first two Tests, looked set to dominate once again when they reduced the visitors to 114 for four at tea, after a flurry of wickets in the second session.
But the bowling went awry after the last interval an England cruised to the finish on 231 for four with Buttler unbeaten on 67 and Stokes not out on 62.
The pair scored freely against a tiring and errant Windies pace attack, and have so far posted 124 in an unbroken fifth wicket partnership.
Both, however, were beneficiaries of Windies indiscipline, so rare previously in the series.
Buttler was dropped before he had scored off fast bowler Shannon Gabriel in the second session while Stokes was reprieved on 52 late in the day off an Alzarri Joseph no-ball, after falling to a return catch.
Buttler rode his luck and has so far struck nine fours off 123 deliveries in just over 3 1/2 hours, with Stokes counting six boundaries off 130 balls in just under 2 1/2 hours at the crease.
Twenty-year-old seamer Keemo Paul, brought in to replace suspended captain Jason Holder, finished with two for 42.
Opener Rory Burns had earlier scored 29 and Joe Denly, 20, as England made a slow start after being sent in on a two-paced wicket at the Daren Sammy National Stadium.
A 25-minute rain break after just five overs sent the players from the field with England on five without loss, and West Indies made the breakthrough in the ninth over – about 20 minutes after the resumption – when Paul got left-hander Keaton Jennings to edge a drive to wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich for eight, off the first ball of his opening spell.
Jennings had lived a charmed life in adding 30 with Burns, playing and missing on several occasions against the new-ball pair of Gabriel and the luckless Kemar Roach.
He survived a chance on three when he was squared up by Roach only for Roston Chase at third slip to grass a regulation, chest-high opportunity.
On 46 for one at lunch, England wobbled after the break, losing three wickets in the session, as West Indies bowlers found their momentum.
Paul struck 35 minutes following the resumption, gaining an lbw decision against Burns courtesy DRS, after the left-hander played across a full length delivery, with England on 69 for two.
Six balls later in the next over with no runs added to the total, Joe Denly perished, trapped on the crease by a fast one from Gabriel which came back to find him lbw.
With his side reeling, captain Joe Root (16) combined with Buttler in a 38-run fourth wicket stand which temporarily halted the flood of wickets.
Luck was with Buttler when he slashed at the 10th ball he faced only for the catch to shave the fingertips of the leaping Darren Bravo and Shimron Hetmyer in the slips.
Root, meanwhile, started shakily, and needed 19 balls before he could find his first scoring shot, a couple to cover off Paul.
He had made it through the difficult period when he suffered a lapse in concentration in the third over before tea, and was caught behind swatting at wide delivery from Joseph at 107 for four.
But a final session that promised so much at the break was filled only with disappointment for the Windies as Buttler and Stokes scored freely to add 117 runs without being separated.
Stokes was first to his half-century when he cut off-spinner Chase to the point boundary, 55 minutes before the close. In the very next over, he took a short ball back to Joseph who snaffled the return catch, only for television replays to reveal the 22-year-old’s breach of the front crease.
Buttler raised his half-century two overs later as England dug in to ensure West Indies remained without any late success. (CMC)