BATSMAN Gary Ballance celebrated a century that made up in value what it lacked in fluency after steering England towards probable victory in the first Test against the West Indies last night.
Ballance’s resilient 122 helped the tourists to a second-innings tally of 333-7 declared and ultimately a lead of 339 at the end of day four, after the hosts mustered 98-2 in reply in Antigua.
The Yorkshire player was aided by Joe Root’s 59 and boisterous contributions from Ben Stokes, who made a rapid 35, and Jos Buttler, who plundered 59 off just 56 balls.
“It would have been nice to get one or two more, but overall we couldn’t be happier,” said Ballance of his fourth Test hundred.
“It’s been a tough winter, so it’s nice to score a hundred in the first Test match back in quite a tough situation. It probably looked quite scratchy but I don’t mind about that.
“To score runs when the team needs it is great. We have got a new ball just after lunch tomorrow so hopefully we can sneak a few out then and kick on after that.”
England need eight wickets to secure the win that would lift some of the gloom created by a dismal World Cup campaign and set up the series triumph publicly demanded by the team’s senior management. They can take encouragement from the manner of the two they snared before stumps.
First Stuart Broad’s quick short ball lured Kraigg Brathwaite (7) into fending to short leg, where Root held.
Better was to come later, when Chris Jordan, who made 13 with the bat, flung himself low to his right at first slip to brilliantly catch after Darren Bravo (32) edged Root’s delivery.
On a flat pitch James Anderson failed to take a wicket from seven overs, meaning he will resume his bid to overtake Sir Ian Botham as England’s leading wicket-taker today one short of the current record.
England captain Alastair Cook, meanwhile, has received robust support from former team-mate Andrew Flintoff after his combined 24 runs in this match made it 61 international innings since he last hit a century.
“I get fed up of people having a go at Alastair Cook. I was captain when he came into the side. I got a lot of things wrong as England captain, but one thing I got right was picking Alastair Cook,’ said Flintoff.
“He’s one of England’s finest ever players. If you have a career spanning more than 100 Test matches, there are going to be blips along the way. But Alastair will get through this.
“I’d like to see people outside the England team backing the lad. It’s nice sometimes when you get a bit of loving from people, and I think that’s the only thing missing with Alastair at the minute.”