Napier, New Zealand:West Indies captain Chris Gayle picked his moment to end a three-year century drought, making an unbeaten 146 and batting through the fourth day of the second Test against New Zealand on Monday to hold off the threat of defeat.
At stumps the West Indies were 278 for seven, leading New Zealand by 214 runs with three wickets in hand and a day remaining, still battling after trailing by 64 runs on the first innings.
Gayle, with his eighth Test century, had become the central figure in a seesawing day's play during which New Zealand mostly held a slim advantage but on which the West Indies defiantly refused to surrender.
That the match was still alive at stumps was due almost entirely to Gayle who had batted for 428 minutes for his first century in three years and in 46 innings spread over 24 Tests. The tall, powerful opener last passed three figures in a Test when he scored 317 against South Africa at Antigua in mid-2005.
In breaking that drought, Gayle shared partnerships of 58 for the first wicket with Sewnarine Chattergoon and 47 for the third wicket with Xavier Marshall but, most importantly, 124 spanning 55 overs and 200 minutes with Brendan Nash for the fifth wicket.
Nash made 65, his second half century of the match and his second in three innings since his debut in the drawn first Test in Dunedin. With Gayle, the Australian allrounder produced a partnership which straddled all three sessions Monday and which gradually reduced New Zealand's commanding position, giving the West Indies some hope of saving the match.
When they resumed Monday, the tourists were 62-2, still trailing by two runs after New Zealand had responded with 371 to the West Indies' first innings of 307. Gayle was 36 not out, having dashed to that total in a brief period before stumps on Sunday, and Xavier Marshall had yet to score.
Gayle continued to bat at a canter in the early stages of the fourth day, rushing to his half century in 88 minutes from 65 balls with four fours and three sixes. His best effort early on was a straight-hit six off Jeetan Patel which cleared the low grandstand at the end of the ground and bounced through the carpark.
Having reached his half century, however, Gayle's gameplan changed. He became more focused on crease occupation than run-scoring and his progress to his century was slow and painstaking.
His second 50 included four more fours and two more sixes but they were rare treats in a diet of singles and he took 124 balls and 165 minutes to work through his second half century. In total, Gayle's hundred took 253 minutes from 189 balls and he continued in that manner until stumps, adding only 29 runs in two hours of the final session.
But in doing so, he gradually eroded the time remaining to New Zealand to score the winning runs on an increasingly innocuous batting track. The West Indies' lead of 214 was insubstantial in that context but if Gayle can work with his tailenders to get through the first session Tuesday, New Zealand might not have time to score the winning runs.
There were times Monday when New Zealand seemed well in command and times when the West Indies were almost on terms. Gayle and Marshall saw the tourists to 106 for two in the first session, a lead of 42, and both seemed comfortable but Patel titled the match in New Zealand's favor by taking two wickets with consecutive balls.
He first removed Marshall for 18 then, crucially, dismissed first innings century-maker Shivnarine Chanderpaul first ball, drawing a false shot from the prolific batsman with a looping full toss. Chanderpaul was so surprised to see Patel's first offering that he played a half-hearted shot and succeeded only in returning a catch to the bowler.
At 106-4 New Zealand was on top but Gayle and Nash then restored the innings batting from before lunch until after tea to steer the tourists to 230 for five when Nash fell to James Franklin.