England’s revamped top order buckled as they reached 114 for four on the first afternoon of the third Test against the West Indies.
Recalled opener Keaton Jennings, back just one game after being axed, had a troubled stay and could have been out twice before he nicked to slip in familiar fashion for just eight.
Rory Burns (29) and Joe Denly (20) fared somewhat better but neither looked secure at the crease and were dispatched lbw in successive overs after lunch at St Lucia’s Daren Sammy Stadium.
Keemo Paul, chosen to replace banned West Indies captain Jason Holder, justified the decision by accounting for Jennings and Burns, with the rapid Shannon Gabriel too quick for Denly.
The fourth, and most important, wicket fell just before the break as captain Joe Root waved his bat at a wider delivery from Alzarri Joseph and feathered behind.
The pitch played slower than anticipated in the first session but it was still too tricky for Jennings, who fortuitously escaped an lbw decision and was dropped in the cordon with just three to his name.
He lasted 43 deliveries in total before edging Paul’s first ball of the match to slip but never looked settled and may now have just one more innings to save his England career.
Burns survived a couple of risky strokes of his own, including a thick edge that skipped past fourth slip, but worked the ball off his legs to keep the scoreboard moving.
His dangerous call almost saw Denly run out for two, and the Kent man was sweating again off the penultimate ball of the session.
He gloved a Gabriel short ball to wicketkeeper Shane Dowrich, but Rod Tucker’s not-out verdict was upheld as DRS showed Denly’s hand had come off the bat before contact.
The West Indies came out strong after the break, Gabriel amping up both his pace and accuracy to make life increasingly difficult for the batsmen.
But for the second time in the day it took the introduction of Paul to make things happen. With the second ball of his spell he took a wide approach from round the wicket, persuaded Burns to attempt a leg-side flick and thudded the front pad. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena was unmoved, but DRS suggested middle stump would have been flattened.
Denly followed in the next over, Gabriel beating him for pace and winning another lbw. At 69 for three, England were flirting with trouble and it would surely have arrived had a booming edge from Jos Buttler, on nought, gone to hand. Instead, second and third slip got in each other’s way and it sped to the ropes.
As it was Buttler saw it through to tea, but Root failed for the fifth time on tour. Having knuckled down for 15 in 54 balls he was tempted out by a wider one from Joseph but failed to move his feet.