After a feisty declaration push in the morning session, led by another sparky cameo of 41 from 39 balls from Dan Lawrence, England briefly held out hopes of bowling West Indies out as they slipped to 65 for 3 at tea, in pursuit of a nominal target of 282.
However, Brathwaite picked up where he had left off in his first-innings 160 with another unyielding innings of 56 not out from 184 balls. In so doing, he finished the match with a tally of 216 runs from 673 balls – eclipsing the 582 balls that Brian Lara faced in making 400 not out in 2004 as the longest any West Indian has ever spent at the crease in a single Test match.
“It was annoying how good he was,” Root said. “He played brilliantly in both innings and didn’t give us many opportunities. He ground us down. He’s an ideal player for a pitch like that. He takes it deep time and time again. He had a clear game-plan and stuck to it very well. It’s frustrating but there’s a lot of respect for the way he went about it.
“It did feel like a new-ball wicket, you needed to really make an impact while the ball was harder, but after three brilliant breakthroughs, we unfortunately couldn’t quite kick on,” Root added. “Credit to West Indies, they fought very hard in two brilliant Test matches, and it should be a brilliant final one of the series.”
Brathwaite, the player of the match, admitted he had not been aware of the scale of his achievement until he returned to the West Indies dressing-room at the end of the match, having batted for a total of 15 hours and 45 minutes across his two innings, and been on the field of play for all but 21 overs.
“I heard it when I went in, that’s amazing to hear,” he said. “Obviously I’ve put in a lot of work over the years, and to do it at home is a quite pleasant feeling, especially having family here, so I’m very happy and thankful.”
However, when asked if West Indies might have taken a more proactive approach to their first innings, having kept England in the field for 187.5 overs, Brathwaite insisted that his team was focused on “learning on the job”, having not won a Test in ten attempts since February 2021, and that they would not necessarily look to up their tempo for next week’s series decider in Grenada.
“It was good that, after England put up 500, we as a team could fight and put 400 back,” Brathwaite said. “That’s the attitude we want, and the fans want to see. Once you continuously have the right attitude, our Test [results] will go up.
“In periods we could [be more attacking], but spending time at the crease and batting through three new balls is a great start for us. We need to just learn as quick as possible on the job, and improve at different periods of the game.”
Much the same could be said for England, who have themselves won just one Test out of their last 16. However, Root believes that the team has laid down a series of markers in the last two matches, and singled out Lawrence – who starred with the bat in both innings, as well as with the ball and in the field – as a particular example of the strides the team has made.
“I think he’s been wonderful,” Root said. “One of the most pleasing things is how selfless he’s been throughout this series. He’s always tried to put the team first – again this morning, really making sure we tried to get as many as we could as quickly as we could, to give ourselves the best chance taking 10 wickets this afternoon.”
England have now made five centuries in the series, with Root making his second of the series in Barbados alongside Ben Stokes’ first for 18 months. Lawrence, however, might have added three figures of his own in this match, had he not had a rush of blood in the final over of the first day, when he holed out to cover for 91.
“I don’t think it will be long if he keeps playing like that, that’s for sure,” Root said. “He’s obviously a very talented player. He seems to be growing in confidence all the time, and the more and more he puts himself in those positions, I’m sure it won’t be long.
“It was just really pleasing to see us make a substantial first-innings total for the first time in a long time,” Root added, after England had declared on 507 for 9. “So long may that continue. The guys have gained a lot of confidence from it and hopefully we can replicate it again, and again, and again.”
Root also had a word of praise for England’s two debutant seamers, Matt Fisher and Saqib Mahmood, who stuck to their tasks well across both innings. In the first, Fisher had the euphoria of a wicket with his second ball when John Campbell edged to the keeper, and though Mahmood missed out on his moment due to a costly no-ball, he atoned with four in the match, including two in the second innings to lift England’s victory hopes.
“I think they were brilliant,” Root said. “The two wickets that we’ve played on have not been the most receptive for seam bowlers, but the two lads have shown great commitment, great dedication, great skill levels – and a different kind of skill level to what they are used to in England, to hold a game and create pressure. It was great to see the delight on their faces when they both picked those first wickets up.”
The unresponsive nature of the surfaces could tempt England into a fourth debutant of the series, if the legspinner Matt Parkinson comes into the side in Grenada. Root, however, insisted that their incumbent spinner, Jack Leach, had done everything asked of him in ploughing through for the remarkable match figures of 94.5-40-154-5, the heaviest workload by an England bowler in 60 years.
“We’ll have to see what kind of wicket we get, and weigh what we think is the best way to take 20 wickets,” Root said. “But it’s really pleasing to see Jack play the way he has. You can see how much he’s enjoying himself out there, bowling with great control, looking very threatening all the time. And it’s great to see him really start to find his feet and look very comfortable at this level.”
After consecutive declarations, England have twice run out of overs in which to turn the screw on West Indies. And Root conceded he “could have been braver” about the equation he left in Barbados, of 282 runs in 65 overs.
“It’s always a tricky one isn’t it?” he said. “You’re always trying to weigh that up, but I think with how small this ground is, and how strong the wind was, you don’t want to make it too close. It’s easy to look back in hindsight and say, you know, could we have pulled out 10 overs earlier, but in the end, would it have made much difference?”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket