ENGLAND’S premier batsman Kevin Pietersen hit a determined 97 here Wednesday to help England fight off the early shackles of West Indies domination and end an absorbing first day of the opening Digicel Test at 236 for five.
Left-arm spinner Sulieman Benn topped the bowling with two for 64 from a marathon, unbroken spell of 33 overs. Captain Chris Gayle also kept a tight rein with his off-breaks in taking one for 35.
Fast bowlers Jerome Taylor (one for 56) and Daren Powell (one for 31) had made the early breakthroughs in front of their fellow Jamaicans.
The home team began strongly despite losing the toss at a sunlit Sabina Park.
Taylor had England skipper Andrew Strauss dropped at third slip by Xavier Marshall but, luckily, the miss did not prove costly.
Next over, Taylor had his man as Strauss feathered an edge low to wicket-keeper Denesh Ramdin.
Powell was soon in the wickets, too, as Strauss’ opening partner Alastair Cook fell to a miscued pull to mid-on as England wobbled at 31 for two midway through the first session.
Pietersen and Ian Bell added 40 for the third wicket to shake off the stranglehold but Gayle and the home team took lunch the happier team as Bell edged to first slip off the skipper just before the break.
Pietersen and Paul Collingwood were restricted by the spin pairing of Benn and Gayle after lunch and the West Indies maintained their grip when Collingwood was leg before to Benn as he missed a sweep at 132 for four.
But the visitors spent the rest of the day slowly battling their way back with Pietersen to the fore. Pietersen shared a fine fifth wicket stand of 86 with all-rounder Andrew Flintoff either side of tea. Pietersen seemed set for a 16th Test century when, after launcing Benn for 4, 4, 6 off the first three balls, he skied a catch off the top-edge as he sought another boundary to go to three figures.
His dismissal left England on 180 for five but Flintoff (43 not out) and wicket-keeper Matt Prior (27 not out) further frustrated the West Indies in an undefeated stand of 56 for the sixth wicket before close.