England in sight of series-levelling victory

England was in a powerful position to force a series-levelling victory over West Indies after four days of the third Test at Antigua Recreation Ground.

updated: February 19, 2009 11:26 IST
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St. John's, Antigua:

England was in a powerful position to force a series-levelling victory over West Indies after four days of the third cricket Test at Antigua Recreation Ground on Wednesday.

England, 31-1 overnight, stretched its second innings to 221-8 before declaring and setting the home team a target of 503 in a minimum of 135 overs.

West Indies closed on 143-3 with their two most accomplished batsmen, Rammaresh Sarwan (47 not out) and Shivnarine Chanderpaul (18 not out) together in an unbroken stand of 47. West Indies needed an improbable 360 more for the win.

Chanderpaul said they were not daunted by the size of their job. He and Sarwan hit centuries on the same ground six years when West Indies amassed 418-7 to beat Australia.

"We have to bat as long as we can and try and keep them out because tomorrow the weather might not be that good as well," he said. "It's a huge total. I don't know what can happen tomorrow. Cricket is a funny game, anything can happen. We just want to get a partnership going and see what happens."

West Indies began brightly with skipper Chris Gayle and Devon Smith adding 59 for the first wicket either side of tea.

But England hit back in the final session as three wickets fell in the space of 37 runs.

Smith went first, leg before wicket on the back foot to Harmison. The left-hander hit two fours in 21 off 60 balls.

Gayle was four short of a half century when he missed a sweep at first-innings five-wicket hero Graeme Swann and was also leg before. The West Indies captain hit eight fours off 67 balls.

Ryan Hinds followed soon after for 6 to a lame stroke, lofting fast bowler Stuart Broad to mid-on to leave his team wobbling at 96-3.

Sarwan, following his top score of 94 in the first innings, was again fluent and closed in sight of another half century. The stylish right-hander hit six fours off 87 balls in 109 minutes.

Chanderpaul, the world's top-ranked batsman, was typically defiant in compiling 18 not out off 41 balls with two fours in 66 minutes.

Steve Harmison, who provided the initial breakthrough to be 1-17, warned that England still had a lot of work to do to complete victory on Thursday's final day.

"As much as the wicket does have a demon in it, you have to find it. And I think it's mainly flat in most parts," Harmison said.

"It's about trying to stay patient with yourself and with the wicket and try to hit the same areas as much as you can and hope the wicket will do something for you."

Harmison admitted he had to battle sickness on Tuesday's third day but was hoping he would be back to his best as England pressed for a win on Thursday.

"I didn't feel the best of health. I got on the field and I think the heat just knocked me for six. I went off the first time and I'm sure the lads weren't too happy about having scrambled eggs all over the bathroom floor because I was completely sick everywhere.

"I feel a lot better tonight. Hopefully, with a good night's sleep and a good meal inside of me _ because I've not ate much for the last two days _ I'll be a bit more effective tomorrow because obviously it's the most important day for us on the tour so far."

Alastair Cook anchored the England innings in the morning despite two wickets for Daren Powell.

Nightwatchman James Anderson hung around to add 46 with Cook before he edged Powell to wicketkeeper Denesh Ramdin.

Owais Shah hit an enterprising 14 before he lost his middle stump to Powell, who finished with 2-33.

England pushed on after lunch despite the loss of Cook on 58 to a spitting delivery from Ryan Hinds (2-45) at 145-4.

Kevin Pietersen (32) and Paul Collingwood (34) shared a fifth-wicket stand of 54 off just 44 balls and although the innings subsided quickly, England pushed its lead past 500 before captain Andrew Strauss chose to declare for the second time in the match.