This is not a high quality Test match, both teams living down to expectations, but at least it is an engrossing shootout to decide the series.
A series of unforced errors by West Indies let England back in for the second time in two days, lurching from 50 for nought to 95 for six, but neither side is good enough to provide the killer touch.
England could not finish West Indies off at 176 for eight, and grab their own lead, instead Josh Da Silva made a pugnacious 54 in more than 51 overs at the crease to edge his team 28 ahead, at 232 for eight, the Test in the balance.
Both teams are weary after two sapping Test matches in two weeks and just three days between each game, which is barely time to unpack, let alone recover.
Tired minds and bodies combined with an unreliable pitch produced two excellent days of Test cricket, and with more locals expected at the weekend, the atmosphere for the finale of the series will be fun, welcome after the banality of the first two Tests.
England’s bowling, like their batting, is patchy. Chris Woakes fired out three afternoon wickets but his line was wonky again with both new balls and this is the final throes of his Test career overseas. Craig Overton is effective bowling bouncers or cross seamers but not quick enough when he goes fuller searching for seam or swing. Saqib Mahmood is the potential match-winner in the final innings, brimming with youthful verve and posing more threat with the new ball, reversing the old.
Wickets fell in batches, West Indies posting a fifty opening stand but not much thereafter. The first hour belonged to them at 41-0, the second to England with 30-3. After lunch West Indies lost three for 35, but rallied through their stubborn keeper Da Silva, losing just one for 98 in the final session, the softening ball making batting an evening pastime two days running.
A terrible first 90 minutes threatened to undo the last stand the night before of Jack Leach and Mahmood. Woakes and Overton wasted the new ball bowling too short or wide.
West Indies openers left 12 of Woakes’s first three overs and 33 per cent of their total deliveries in the first hour. Accuracy is normally his strength. There was nothing like the same seam movement West Indies had conjured either.
The heavy roller had drained a bit of life out of the pitch but even if there had been any, England would have failed to find it, John Campbell and Kraigg Brathwaite posting a third fifty opening stand of the series, Overton and Woakes again failing to strike with the new ball.
Root was beside himself at slip, turning away in disgust and with hands on hips in a full teapot. He couldn’t blame Broad and Anderson this time. The answer, as usual, was to summon Stokes, on in the eighth over. Hitting the pitch halfway down was England’s answer, and they were lucky too, wickets falling to shooters and a leg side strangle.
From the River End it would fly through, from the Darbeau End, it would scoot. Even Kraigg Brathwaite’s defence cannot keep out a grubber and he did not even bother to look at the umpire when he was struck on the pad by Stokes.
From the other end, Overton went short, hitting Campbell on the front and back of the head in two balls and Sharmarh Brooks in the ribs. Root removed the slips, putting men on the onside, going for the body allowing the variable bounce do the rest.
Brooks was done by the low bounce, Mahmood getting one to fly through low for another plumb leg before. Campbell’s mind had been scrambled and he was caught down the leg side off Overton.