England fought their way into a lead of 170 against the West Indies after a day four that ebbed and flowed at the Ageas Bowl.
But the hosts will feel they have let the game slip after a Shannon Gabriel inspired fightback in the evening session. Half centuries from Dom Sibley and Zak Crawley on their first tests on home soil helped put England in a decent position at stumps, before the tourists got five evening session wickets to put the game in the balance.
Ben Stokes was the first to go of those three evening scalps - having breezed through to the 40s, he edged Jason Holder to gully trying to work the ball through mid on. It was a soft end to an innings where the stand in captain had looked in good touch, driving nicely down the ground and through the covers on a number of occasions.
It ended a partnership of 98 between him and Crawley and sparked a mini-collapse for the hosts, with the latter sending a leading edge straight back to Alzarri Joseph when he looked set for a century. His test best of 76 had guided England into a promising, if uncertain, position, with the middle order set the task of building a lead of more than 200.
It seemed a perfect situation for Jos Buttler to come in and make a case for his test spot, but he could only make nine before being bowled by Joseph. Not the most compelling case but more pertinently for England, the chance of a significant lead was diminished significantly. The chances diminished even further as Dom Bess and then Ollie Pope were bowled by Gabriel, both undone by sheer pace and a slight bit of movement off the pitch.
Undoubtedly England would have been frustrated to see the work of their top undone, when they at one point looked set to post a lead of at least 200.
Having seen England through to stumps last night, Sibley and his opening partner Rory Burns carefully set about putting together a partnership of 72 to take England close to parity. Their stand lasted until Burns sliced a long hop from Roston Chase to John Campbell at point- a tame dismissal undoing all his hard work.
Sibley was the second man to go- twice- having just reached his half century. He initially earned a reprieve after chopping on from a Gabriel no ball- replays showing the big fast bowler had just overstepped- before being strangled down the leg side the very next ball for a gritty 50. It was a well made, patient innings but there may be some concerns over the familiarity of how the opener was dismissed.
The second innings had been billed as a contest between Crawley and Joe Denly for the number three spot upon Joe Root’s return, and Denly could not match his Essex counterpart’s effort. In typical Denly fashion he ground out a start, reaching 29 before tamely chipping Chase to Holder at midwicket. Denly, for all his effort seeing off 70 balls, was once again unable to kick on from a good start and with the captain’s impending return, it may be his place that is under biggest threat.
England will resume in the morning with Jofra Archer and Mark Wood hoping to add precious runs, with the game well and truly in the balance on a pitch that seems to be showing signs of wear.