What a thrilling day of Test match cricket as wickets fell throughout, momentum swung from team to team and moments of brilliance deserved to be savoured.
Either side could win in Barbados. If England do, they will win the series 2-0, but West Indies will believe they can draw it 1-1 after reducing England to 39-5 at the close.
Eighteen wickets fell on the day, a record in the West Indies for a Test.
It was mostly a day of two swing bowlers. Jerome Taylor was brisk, moved the ball and took wickets in both the morning and evening sessions. In between James Anderson, slower in pace but more skilled and shrewd, topped and tailed the West Indies first innings with three wickets in the opening overs and three more to finish the job to record figures of 6-42 as the home side were bowled out for 189.
It gave England, who hit 257 in their first innings, a crucial lead of 68 and, at that stage, they looked dominant. However, Jonathan Trott did not last long in England’s second innings, as has been his recent wont, and he was soon followed by both Alastair Cook and Ian Bell.
Poor old Trott, his rehabilitation has not worked and nor will his idiosyncratic technique while all and sundry around the globe know he cannot face the short ball. It was Cook and Bell, though, both lbw to Taylor, that really opened the game up in the final hour of play. The lead was creeping towards 100 but any position of strength was tenuous at best.
The pitch has been mostly blameless. The odd ball has gripped and there is some turn and a bit of bounce. Batsmen have been found out by wonderful swing bowling or poor execution.
Oh, what a joy Anderson’s dismissal of Marlon Samuels was in the morning. He set him up beautifully with a series of well-directed outswingers. Samuels elected to leave as much as possible but he failed to pick the disguised inswinger that rattled into his pads. It was the most artful bowling but also enjoyable as Samuels is an antagonist on the pitch and was thoroughly stunned by the ball.
It is now worryingly obvious that Anderson’s continued fitness is paramount to England. He will need to be equally good in the second innings here and throughout the summer against New Zealand and Australia.
There is a match to win, though, and if England do it will make Cook’s first-innings century more valuable than simply breaking the hoodoo of not scoring one since May 2013. He just did his basics well, which is attack the short ball hard, leave outside off stump and push spinners into gaps. For West Indies, the talented Jermaine Blackwood did similar, although he failed to reach a century as he was running out of partners and was dismissed for 85. They may not be huge scores, but they were earned the hard way and are worth more in a low-scoring game.
One moment could change the result of this match, a moment like Chris Jordan’s one-handed catch at slip to dismiss Shivranine Chanderpaul. He may have questions to answer about his bowling, but he is one of the best slip fielders in the world.
This nailbiting Test match is likely to be over in three days, a chief executive’s nightmare of the sort no ground would want in England this summer. By then, though, Adam Lyth or Alex Hales should be opening instead of Trott. They should come into a side regaining confidence after a reasonably successful Caribbean tour and an opening partner in Cook who is rediscovering his mojo after a poor 15 months.
Because of all the things learned on this tour it is that England are much stronger with Cook performing with the bat and Anderson performing with the ball. Add in the likes of Joe Root, Gary Ballance and, who knows, maybe Kevin Pietersen and England do not look as abject as initially feared. Whatever the result here, at least the rebuilding process, for so long unnecessarily delayed, has started in earnest.