A 90-run last-wicket partnership between Jack Leach and Saqib Mahmood rescued England from a desperate position on day one of the third and final Test against the West Indies on Thursday.
The tourists were finally dismissed in the last over of the day for 204.
All looked lost for England when Chris Woakes became fast bowler Jayden Seales’ third wicket at the start of the final session at 114-9, a situation which fully justified home captain Kraigg Brathwaite’s decision on winning the toss to bowl first on a pitch which appeared to have much more for the bowlers than in the tedious, drawn first two Tests in Antigua and Barbados.
However, Leach, who was elevated to almost legendary status after his memorable match-winning last-wicket partnership in support of Ben Stokes at Leeds in the 2019 Ashes series, found a sturdy partner in Mahmood and the pair rode their luck, frustrating the West Indies through almost the entire final session.
They were so well set that they saw off the second new ball comfortably and it was only in the last over of the day, with Mahmood within a run of a maiden first-class half-century, that ambition got the better of him and he dragged a delivery from Jermaine Blackwood onto his stumps to depart crestfallen for 49.
Leach, who will be expected to do a lot of bowling again with his left-arm spinners in the latter stages of the match, was unbeaten on 41 after more than two hours of vigilance.
With the next best batting effort being 31 from Alex Lees at the top of the order, this was only the second time in the 145-year history of Test cricket – Tom Garrett and Edwin Evans, also for England, against Australia at Sydney in 1885 is the only other occasion – that the No 10 and 11 in the batting order were the top-scorers in a completed Test innings.
“We were just taking it in short bursts, seeing off their main bowlers first off and trying get whatever runs we could when the support bowlers and then part-timers came on as they were trying to get to that second new ball,” said Mahmood.
“There’s definitely a lot of lateral movement for the bowlers out there, especially with the new ball,” he added.
“It’s obviously not the start we wanted but we now have a chance at the start of the second day with a new ball and I hope we can make good use of it.”
Having bent their backs with very little reward through two draining Test matches, the home bowlers revelled in the conditions through the first two sessions with only former captain Jason Holder missing out on the harvest of wickets.
Seales’ figures of 3-40 were the best of the innings with senior fast bowler Kemar Roach together with lanky pacer Alzarri Joseph taking two wickets each.
But the West Indies got a real bonus from the impact of Kyle Mayers.
The medium-pacer made the first breakthrough of the day and then added the prized scalp of England captain Joe Root in a five-over spell in which he did not concede a single run.
Included in the home side’s final XI for the first time in the series, Mayers struck in his second over when Zak Crawley drove loosely at a full-length delivery to be taken at short extra-cover by Brathwaite.
The skipper was an even happier man two overs later when Root was drawn tentatively forward by Mayers’ wobbly medium-pace and offered a straightforward catch to wicketkeeper Joshua da Silva before he had scored.
“I’m a natural in-swing bowler but I try to bowl a lot of leg-cutters because you need a lot more variation against quality players,” Mayers explained.
“I usually mix it up in trying to set the batsmen up over time, so I actually got those wickets before I really expected to.
“This pitch has a reputation of being full of runs in first-class cricket so it’s no surprise to see that it may be flattening out.
“We were frustrated by that last-wicket partnership but we’re happy that it’s over and we didn’t have to bat at all at the end of the day.”