The Southampton Test between hosts England and West Indies, which marked the return of international cricket after a three-month hiatus owing to the global coronavirus outbreak, is interestingly poised.
As the stumps were drawn on fourth day, the Windies had reduced the Three Lions to 284 for 8 in their second innings, with a humble lead of 170 runs.
The game is heading for a fitting climax, with all three results possible on the fifth and final day.
While England would try desperately to push their lead beyond 250, Holder and his bowling gang would look to wrap up the innings at the earliest to give themselves the best chance of winning the Test.
However, any target above 200 would make it a challenging task to win in two sessions, or more if the last two English wickets fall quickly.
While the game is well and truly in the balance, the weather might have a lot to say when it comes to deciding the outcome on the final day if it turns untoward all of sudden on a day which is predicted to sunny throughout.
England can’t be written off
Also, Anderson, Wood, Archer and Stokes would come out all guns blazing and try to pick up some wickets upfront.
Hence, whatever may the target be, the Windies are likely to face a hostile opening burst from the English quickmen.
Campbell and Brathwaite, the Windies openers, would have to exercise a lot of circumspection in the opening overs and look to cash in on loose balls.
England seemed to be on way to building a healthy lead as Sibley and Crawley dug in and pushed the scoring along as well.
However, the Islanders came back strong in the final session, picking up five wickets and denting English hopes of pushing the lead to 300 and beyond.
However, England are certainly not out of it yet. Archer and Wood, the two unbeaten batsmen at the end of the fourth day, will look to come to swinging on the final day and stretch the lead to 250.
With the surface still having something in it for the bowlers, any target around or beyond 250 would make for an interesting contest.
Anderson, an architect of many famous wins from seemingly losing positions, would put the Windies top order to the test with his probing deliveries.
West Indies back in the game courtesy Gabriel and Joseph
Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph struck gold in the final session, putting the skids on England. Had it not been for their persevering spells, the English lead could well have been beyond 200 by the end of the day’s play.
Stokes and Crawley seemed determined to push England along before the stand-in skipper was removed by his counterpart Holder. It marked the third time that Holder had dismissed Stokes twice in two innings.
Richie Benaud, Sir Garfield Sobers and Shakib Al Hasan are the other players to have achieved the feat twice.
That wicket was the key as it gave the Windies hope of wrapping up the innings. Stokes’s wicket was also Holder’s 200th scalp in international cricket.
Barring ocassional uneven bounce, the pitch has played well and the Windies would fancy chasing anything beyond 200.
Assessing England’s possibilities on the final day, Crawley, who played a fighting hand of 76, said, “It should be tight if we bowl well tomorrow, especially if we get a lead of 200.”
However, pushing the lead to 200 would be no mean feat, with the Windies quickies steaming in on the final day. They are likely to dish some short stuff to the tail-enders and get them out fending to the close-in catchers.
While Gabriel finished Day 4 with 3-62, Joseph also returned impressive bowling figures of 2-40.
Hence, all eyes would be on Ageas Bowl as both England and West Indies try to force a result in their favour.