West Indies captain Chris Gayle made a timely return to the century ranks yesterday to ensure a final day showdown in the second Test against New Zealand at McLean Park.
Gayle, unbeaten on 146 — his first century from 24 Tests in three years — provided more than half of the West Indies total as they ended the fourth day at 278 for seven in their second innings, for an overall lead of 214.
New Zealand felt in with a chance to end the West Indies innings before the final day when they had the tourists at 106 for four.
But they were thwarted by a valuable 124-run stand for the fifth wicket by Gayle and Australian-born Brendan Nash.
With no Shivnarine Chanderpaul to rely on after the world’s most prolific batsman in the past two years fell first ball, Gayle and Nash dug in to bring the West Indies back into the Test.
Gayle started in fiery form, but became more watchful as his century neared, spending 15 overs in the 90s.
On 99 he offered one of his few chances when he played upishly to midwicket and the ball fell just short of Daniel Flynn.
He then offered a chance going for his 100 when he stopped in the middle of the pitch and had second thoughts about a run before he saw Jeetan Patel misfield at point and was able to get home for his century.
By the close of play he had been at the wicket for nearly five-and-a-half hours in an innings that included 13 fours and six sixes.
For the West Indies, survival through the day mattered most. They only scored 216 runs in the three sessions, but ensured they would go into the fifth day with three wickets to build a demanding chase for New Zealand.
Nash, in only his second Test, provided valuable support for Gayle as they stayed together for 55 overs, batting right through the middle session.
The partnership was broken soon after when a James Franklin bouncer clipped Nash on the gloves and went straight to Jamie How at second slip.
It was a desperately needed stand for the West Indies after an early collapse when they lost two wickets on 106, including the dismissal of Chanderpaul.
After resuming the day at 62 for two, Gayle and Xavier Marshall raced past the 100 mark before Patel made his breakthrough.
He had Marshall caught at first slip by Ross Taylor for 18, three balls after the same batsman had been dropped by wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum.
Then with Patel’s next ball, a full toss he would not be proud of, Chanderpaul attempted to find runs down the leg side, but instead miscued and sent the ball straight back to the bowler for the simplest of catches.
The player ranked the world’s best cricketer was back in the pavilion for a golden duck after batting through the first innings for an unbeaten 126.
Franklin, who had been kept out of the attack for most of the day, followed up his dismissal of Nash by removing Denesh Ramdin for 6 when the batsman flashed at a wide delivery and was caught at point by Flynn.
Iain O’Brien claimed the third wicket to fall in the final session. He first upset Jerome Taylor with a a short-pitched ball that caught him on the grill and then fired a full length delivery which trapped him leg before wicket.