Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes featured in England’s best partnership of a deeply disappointing series as they lifted their team to 231 for four at stumps on the opening day of the third and final Test against the West Indies on Saturday.
Put in to bat by West Indies stand-in captain Kraigg Brathwaite, and seeking to regain some lost prestige after already surrendering the series and the Wisden Trophy, the fifth-wicket pair played with increasing fluency through an extended final session in putting on 124 runs to the close of play at the Darren Sammy Stadium.
It was England’s first century partnership of the series with Buttler getting to 67 and Stokes reaching 62 at the close.
Both made the most of lucky escapes.
Buttler’s first scoring shot was an edge off Shannon Gabriel to which a leaping Shimron Hetmyer at second slip could only get his fingertips.
Stokes was caught and bowled on 52 by Alzarri Joseph and was already in the England dressing room when he got the call to return to the middle as the lanky fast bowler had delivered a no-ball.
“We’ve been disappointed with the way we’ve played,” said Stokes at the end of the day in reflecting on defeats by 381 runs and ten wickets in the first two Tests.
“This is still a challenging wicket so to come off (the field) four wickets down, we’re pleased with that.”
England’s contented mood at the end of the day was in sharp contrast to the situation just three hours earlier as Joe Root’s personal tale of batting woe on this disastrous Caribbean campaign continued.
He fell to Joseph for the third consecutive innings just before the tea interval, wafting at an innocuous delivery from Joseph to give a simple catch to wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich.
Root’s painstaking innings of 15 off 54 deliveries leaves him with a tally of just 54 runs from five innings, typifying England’s desperate struggles with the bat from their first innings of the series when they were routed at Kensington Oval for just 77 on the way to a 381-run mauling.
Gabriel, the fastest of the West Indies bowlers, was the other wicket-taker in the afternoon session, removing Joe Denly with an lbw decision that again highlighted the technical deficiencies of many of England’s top-order batsmen.
Yet while he lacks the pace of Gabriel, Joseph and Kemar Roach, Keemo Paul was the star with the ball for the hosts on day one, making an immediate impact with a wicket with the first ball he bowled in the morning.
Drafted into the final eleven as replacement for regular skipper Jason Holder, Paul ended Keaton Jennings’ tortuous occupation of the crease when the opening batsman fell for the third time in three innings in the series to catches in the slip cordon.
Dropped earlier by Roston Chase at third slip off Roach, Jennings failed to make the most of the reprieve as the left-hander drove loosely at the seam bowling all-rounder’s opening delivery midway through the session to depart for eight off 43 balls via a Darren Bravo catch at first slip.
Paul then removed the other opener, Rory Burns, leg-before for 29 early into the afternoon session.
Jennings was dropped from the England eleven after failing in both innings of the first Test in Barbados, which allowed Denly to make his Test debut in Antigua.
He is one of two changes to the tourists’ eleven as left-handed all-rounder Sam Curran was omitted in preference for fast bowler Mark Wood.
West Indies’ only change to the victorious team from the first two matches was forced by the International Cricket Council’s decision to ban Holder for a slow over rate