South Africa tightened their grip on the first Test at Queen’s Park Oval, prizing out West Indies’ top-four batsmen, including Chris Gayle for 73, after declaring at 206 for 4 with a lead of 456.
Having bundled West Indies out for 102 in the first innings a South African victory appeared a formality and leaving West Indies over five sessions to survive on a wearing track, the home side’s faint hopes were pinned, as ever, on the broad shoulders of their captain.
Unlike the first innings, Gayle initially responded positively. With wickets falling around him he counter-attacked, plonking Morne Morkel into the sight-screen with a crisp straight drive, on his way to a half-century from 62 balls.
All the while, however, South Africa kept chipping away at the other end. Travis Dowlin, the nervy debutant, was rooted to the crease and trapped lbw to Morkel’s first delivery of the innings. It brought Brendan Nash to the crease, batting at least two places too high at No. 3. Nash has forged a Test career on nuggety defiance but today seemed intent on swiping his way to glory. Inevitably, he was soon found out, pushing loosely outside off stump to give Dale Steyn his first wicket of the innings.
At 39 for 2 Shivnarine Chanderpaul was a calming presence and together with Gayle he resisted well. Paul Harris could barely ask for more favourable conditions, with a big lead and a crumbling pitch, but he was unable to extract the type of life the West Indies spinners – Sulieman Benn and Shane Shillingford – had managed earlier in the day.
After the lunch break however, he settled into a good defensive spell and together with Lonwabo Tsotsobe, choked Gayle and Chanderpaul, with 23 runs coming from eight overs. Tsotsobe, still looking for his first Test wicket, bowled his most impressive spell of the game. Probing around off stump and cutting the ball into the left handers, he was unlucky not be rewarded as the West Indies batsmen settled into a period of quiet resistance.
A change of bowling, however, pierced the bubble as Chanderpaul lost concentration and fenced at one outside off stump from Jacques Kallis to find the gleeful hands of AB de Villiers.
Though more sedate than earlier in his innings, Gayle continued to defy, invoking memories of his marathon century at Adelaide in December last year. Conditions here, however, were more testing and the task more futile. When Graeme Smith recalled Morkel, Gayle’s resistance ended. Morkel arrowed one in from round the wicket to trap Gayle in front. Knowing his to be the pivotal wicket, Gayle thought and thought about a referral but in the end, took too long and had to drag himself off the field.
Dwayne Bravo, the new man, was lucky to survive when he popped forward to Harris and squeezed what looked like an inside-edge via pad to a diving Hashim Amla at short leg, but Asad Rauf ruled in favour of the batsman. South Africa went to the third umpire, but Simon Taufel in the box deemed the evidence inconclusive. Bravo survived until tea but West Indies are waiting for the inevitable to unfold.
Earlier in the day South Africa were needlessly cautious as they extended their lead. Smith, desperate for a hundred to quieten the critics beginning to circle, chose to snail his way to the landmark. In the end he dug a hole he could not climb out of and was bowled by the impressive Benn ten runs short. It should have brought the declaration but instead South Africa crept the lead past 450 before leaving West Indies five and half sessions to do the impossible.