Jason Holder fulfilled one of the most cherished ambitions of his career, as he converted a Test century in front of his home crowd at the Kensington Oval into a brilliant unbeaten 202, to put his side into an unassailable position against England on the third day in Barbados.
In partnership with his fellow Bajan and age-group team-mate, Shane Dowrich, Holder made a mockery of England’s feeble efforts in their 77 all out on the second day. Together they added an unbeaten 295 for the seventh wicket, in the process lifting the total from 120 for 6 to 415 for 6, a lead of 627.
Though England dug deep to reach 56 for 0 at the close, they face a massive challenge to bat out the final two days of the Test, on a wicket that has clearly eased up after 18 wickets tumbled on the second day, but which still offers a bit of life for the seamers and signs of turn for the offspin of Roston Chase and John Campbell.
“It was a good day,” said Holder at the close. “My friends and family were here to enjoy it, as I really wanted to achieve this from the very start of my career.”
It was the third Test century of Holder’s 37-Test career, and his second against England, after a gutsy innings in Antigua four years ago helped to save the first Test of that series. But, having made several starts in his previous appearances on his home island, this was the performance he had been longing for.
“I was fortunate to make my debut here in front of my home ground [against New Zealand in 2014], and since then I’ve made four or five half-centuries, it was just a matter of converting one into a hundred. I finally got the hundred and made it into a double.”
West Indies had been in a commanding position going into the third day’s play, although their dominance had looked rather shakier when Dowrich came to the crease in the midst of a collapse of 5 for 9. And the memory of that struggle for the ascendancy helped the pair through a tough first hour, when James Anderson and Ben Stokes combined to put the squeeze on once more.
“It was a taxing day,” said Dowrich. “At the start we had to get through that initial period with Jimmy and Stokesy, but we knew it would get easier. We stuck to our guns and it paid off.
“I found it very challenging up front,” said Holder. “Jimmy and Stokesy made us play a lot of deliveries in the channel, particularly Stokes with his angle and getting the ball to leave.
“He was a threat all day and credit to him, he made us work hard for our runs, but it was a really pleasing day, to bat up past tea and form the partnership that we did.”
Thereafter, however, England’s selection errors played emphatically into West Indies’ hands. In the absence of Stuart Broad, whose deck-hitting lengths would clearly have been an asset, the remainder of the attack – Sam Curran, Moeen Ali and the barely-used legspin of Adil Rashid – were unable to make an impact, with Moeen being thumped for three fours in a row by Holder when he joined the attack in the second hour.
“Two of them are two of the best bowlers in the world right now, and challenging, but Moeen we thought we could get hm off the square a bit easier,” said Dowrich. “We didn’t discuss [batting at] any pace, it was just play the ball on merit, look to bat as long as possible, and tire out the English as much as possible.”
Holder then took a shine to Rashid as his hundred approached, twice flogging him into the stands for two of his eight sixes – a tally which broke Viv Richards’ record for an innings against England, at Antigua in 1986 during his 56-ball hundred.
“Rashid had mid-off up when he was round the wicket,” said Holder. “I felt with my reach and height, I could get closer and hit it over his head, I got one off the inner portion of the bat which got lucky, I was just shouting ‘go ball, go ball’, but it went over his head and I continued on.”
The only question as the partnership wore on was the timing of Holder’s declaration. With two full days still to come in the match, however, there was clearly never any rush.
“We wanted to declare at some point this evening,” said Holder. “It was important to keep England on their feet as long as possible. We wanted to wear them down as there’s still a lot of time left in the Test match and we didn’t want a silly declaration and make it too easy.
“We got to tea and thought we’d have another 45 minutes, then have a good crack this evening. But I don’t think we used the new ball as well as we liked, we’d have liked a few more deliveries to make them play a bit more.”
Both men, however, were confident that there would be plenty still in the pitch to exploit in the final innings.
“There’s a bit of spin and a bit of bounce,” said Dowrich. “There are a few rough patches outside off causing problems, so hopefully our offspinners can come into the game tomorrow.
“You have to err on the fuller side and take a drive or two,” said Holder of the seamers’ challenge. “We’ve got runs on the board, so we can afford to express ourselves a bit. There were occasions tonight when the ball did a bit but we were just a tiny bit too short.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo @miller_cricket
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.