Captain Joe Root said England have shown “resilience” and “what we are capable of” as his unbeaten century on day three set up England’s push for victory against West Indies in the third Test.
Heavy defeats saw England lose the first two Tests of the three-match series but in St Lucia, Root scored 111 not out to see his side close on 325-4, a commanding lead of 448.
“It’s been a tough three games and we have been outplayed at times so I think it was important we showed some resilience, bounced back and showed what we are capable of as a side,” Root told the BBC’s Test Match Special podcast.
The tourists batted throughout the third day with Joe Denly making 69 – his maiden Test fifty – and Jos Buttler 56.
England are likely to declare on day four and attempt to bowl out West Indies to earn a consolation victory.
When West Indies do bat again they will either need to complete a record fourth-innings run-chase to win the match or bat out what remains of the final two days for a draw.
Root’s side dominated the third day, having resumed on 19-0, but there were further failures for openers Rory Burns (10) and Keaton Jennings (23).
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Root returns to form
Despite being England’s premier batsman, Root has been unable to prevent his side falling to heavy defeats in the first two Tests as West Indies clinched the series with a game to spare.
He had scored just 55 runs in his previous five innings with a highest score of 22 and had not scored a half-century in seven innings – the joint-worst run of his career.
In this innings, Root batted conservatively to begin with, frequently nudging the ball into the leg side, before picking up the pace to bring up his 16th Test hundred in 189 balls with his ninth four.
He celebrated in an understated manner and when he punched the air, there seemed to be a tinge of frustration that the runs had not come when the series was alive.
At the close, however, the Yorkshireman played down his struggles earlier in the series.
“You can look at it like that but you can look at some of the dismissals I’ve had in there too,” he said.
“You have to be realistic sometimes. If you feel form is a numbers game, then I have had a lean run but I’ve got a good approach to batting and it’s stood me in good stead until now.”
Root came to the crease at 73-2 after both openers were dismissed but combined well with Denly in a partnership of 74.
Denly, playing in his second Test, batted more positively than his captain with a number of fine drives through the off side and looked set for a big score until he under-edged a cut off Shannon Gabriel to the wicketkeeper.
While the Kent batsman impressed, he was reprieved on 12 when Shimron Hetmyer dropped a regulation catch at first slip and his score is unlikely to be enough to fully secure his place at number three in this summer’s home Ashes series.
After Denly was dismissed, Root shared a century stand with Buttler until the England vice-captain was bowled by an excellent delivery by Kemar Roach, and ended the day alongside Ben Stokes, who made an unbeaten 29.
Root’s innings helped England pass 300 for the first time in the series and they are now heavy favourites to win what is their final Test match until 24 July.
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Jennings fails again
While England’s showing in St Lucia looks likely to give them momentum going into the summer, issues remain.
Once again opener Jennings was out for a disappointing score to a quick bowler, although on this occasion he was unlucky to be bowled off his thigh pad by a loose delivery from Alzarri Joseph.
Jennings struggled to score during his knock with his 23 coming from 99 deliveries at a strike-rate of 23.23.
His fellow opener Burns fell in tame fashion at the start of the day when he clipped a leg-stump half-volley straight to square leg.
It now looks unlikely Jennings will feature in the first Ashes Test next summer but former England captain Michael Vaughan expects Burns to remain in the team.
“England have to find someone who understands what opening the batting is like and Burns has been opening the batting for Surrey for many years,” Vaughan said on The Cricket Social.
“I expect him to get a run of games but you would want him to average more runs.
“He is lucky he is in an era where there are not many opening batsmen around. He will play against Ireland and the first two Ashes Tests.”
England were also helped on day three by injuries to West Indies all-rounder Keemo Paul, who was stretchered off the field with a thigh strain which restricted the hosts’ bowling options, and Darren Bravo, who spent the day off the field with a hand injury.
When will England declare?
England showed little inclination to increase their attacking intent late in the day and, at the close, Root suggested the tourists could even bat longer into day four.
“We’ll have a think about the declaration tonight, see how it plays after the roller and make a decision early on,” Root told Sky Sports.
“It feels the more wear you get in this pitch, the quicker it becomes so it might be that the more runs and pressure you put them under tomorrow, it might speed things up later on.”
Former England captain Alastair Cook was not surprised by the decision to bat through day three.
“There are still two days left in this game. Why wouldn’t you want the extra cushion [of more runs],” Cook said.
“The players are in it to play games of cricket, they are not in it to make it exciting at certain times.
“If England get a 500 lead they will be more comfortable bowling.
“In the dressing room they care about one thing: winning. They want to win by a comfortable margin. Root wants to win this match to build momentum and if that happens on the afternoon of day five, then so be it.”
‘There’s a lot of cricket to be played’ – reaction
West Indies coach Richard Pybus: “It’s been a tough day but it’s been a day we can be satisfied with considering we lost one of our frontline bowlers early on.
“The wicket has flattened out a lot today. I like to think it’s a wicket we can get our heads down on.
“There’s a lot of cricket to be played. We’d love to take six wickets in the morning but it’ll also be interesting to see where Joe Root wants to take the game.”