BEN STOKES did his best to drag England back into the First Test but his team still face a long road to avoid defeat.
After Jason Holder dominated day two with six wickets, his opposite number made significant contributions of his own on day three with four wickets and a sharp catch.
Stokes’ victims included Holder and their duel – remember, Holder is the world’s No1 ranked Test all-rounder with Stokes at No2 – continues to be a thriller.
But, while Stuart Broad sat stewing in the stand after being dropped, most of the bowlers actually picked by England struggled to make regular inroads.
England will be disappointed they allowed the Windies to reach 318 all out just 24 hours after their own batting was swept aside for just 204.
Rory Burns and Dom Sibley managed to survive ten testing overs before the close despite a number of alarms. Sibley, in particular, played and missed several times.
England will resume this morning with 15-0 – still 99 runs behind.
Mark Wood, who took Broad’s place, finished with figures of 1-74 while Jofra Archer, the other half of England’s high-velocity duo, finished wicketless.
In fact, Archer’s pace was down for much of the time, frequently in the mid-80s.
Perhaps he was seeking swing and seam rather than out-and-out speed.
It was left to Broad’s mate and usual new-ball partner, Jimmy Anderson, to remove three of the top five and prevent West Indies enjoying a day of even greater control.
Anderson was far and away England’s most dangerous bowler and showed that, as he enters his 18th summer of international cricket, his skills remain undiminished.
England might think they were unfortunate that, after two days of cloud, drizzle, murk and perfect bowling conditions, things were much brighter in Southampton.
But they knew the weather forecast when they won the toss and chose to bat.
The Windies applied themselves admirably.
Under Holder’s leadership and the firm but avuncular coaching style of Phil Simmons, the men from the Caribbean look a more professional unit than they have for years.
If anybody thought England would cruise to a home victory in this three-Test series, they were much mistaken.
Stokes will absolutely hate returning the captain’s armband to Joe Root with the Windies 1-0 ahead, but that is a genuine prospect unless England bat really well on Saturday.
The Windies resumed on 57-1 and always looked likely to compile a decent lead, such was the determination of their batting.
Archer would have taken a wicket – Shai Hope lbw for 16 – if he had not overstepped for a no-ball.
In the next over, however, Hope departed courtesy of a reflex catch by Stokes at slip off spinner Dom Bess.
But England were unable to take wickets regularly.
Opener Kraigg Brathwaite was eventually lbw to Stokes after three hours of defiance.
It looked highish but the two ‘umpire’s call’ verdicts were enough to uphold the original decision.
Most of the batsmen contributed useful runs and Shamarh Brooks made 39 before edging a catch off Anderson.
Although why Brooks chose to review an obvious nick is anybody’s guess.
Roston Chase was patient and effective, occupying 142 deliveries for his 47 before falling leg before to Anderson with the second new ball.
Holder then top-edged a pull against Stokes and Archer clung onto a tumbling catch at fine leg.
It was the first thing Holder has done wrong in the past few days.
Even No9 Alzarri Joseph whacked three boundaries before having his stumps re-arranged by Stokes.
Stokes collected his fourth wicket when Shane Dowrich nicked behind for 61.
Gabriel was last man out aiming his usual slog – but the Windies lead of 114 runs was a very useful one.