West Indies v England: Ballance makes number three spot his own

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
Flat track slowing progress - Ballance

England still have plenty of hard work ahead of them if they are to beat West Indies in the first Test in Antigua.

The bowlers plugged away on a sluggish pitch, but they will be a bit disappointed to only have the hosts two wickets down at stumps on day four. With dogged batsmen like Shivnarine Chanderpaul to come, West Indies will think they have a fighting chance of clinging on for a draw.

Earlier in the day England's batsmen played excellently to set up a huge target of 438 - a commanding lead which should dispel any thoughts of a West Indies victory.

The innings was underpinned by the young Yorkshire duo of Gary Ballance and Joe Root, who are rapidly growing into hugely important players in England's middle order.

Ex-England batsman Geoffrey Boycott on Test Match Special
"The England bowlers have to do it collectively tomorrow. You need to swap the bowlers around, try some funny field placings, and not too many boundary fielders unless you're going to bowl for the hook. They'll need to make the West Indian batsmen play shots because, if they keep blocking, it's very difficult to prise them out."

Ballance reminded us what an outstanding player he is with his fine innings of 122. He obviously came into this game low on confidence after a poor World Cup and he failed in the first innings here, but you wouldn't have known it from the way he played.

He looked so composed and relaxed at the crease. He lined the ball up well, he played it late - he's predominantly a back-foot player of course, but he has got some shots, and he opened his shoulders towards the end of his innings as England tried to kick on towards a declaration.

There's been a lot of negativity about Ballance recently, which I find baffling. His Test record is absolutely outstanding - he now has four hundreds in just nine Test matches. Ballance has got his name firmly inked in in that number three position now and I hope that negativity can be laid to rest.

England's middle order now looks an area of real strength, with Ian Bell having got a century in the first innings, and Joe Root hitting another fluent fifty today.

Chris Jordan takes a catch
Chris Jordan's one-handed slip catch was the best Jonathan Agnew has ever seen

Root has really grown in stature for England over the last 12 months. His confidence is soaring and he's batting with real authority at number five. He's an all-round player: equally comfortable off the front foot or the back foot, and he also bowls some useful spin, as we saw late on day four.

England have just got to keep chipping away on the final day on Friday, and hope the West Indies lose a bit of nerve. They are going to need moments of luck and moments of brilliance to prise batsmen out, and that's why the extraordinary slip catch taken by Chris Jordan to dismiss Darren Bravo for 32 a few overs before close of play on Thursday could be so crucial.

I can honestly say it was the best catch I've ever seen in that position - what made it outstanding was how close he was standing. I thought I'd never see a better slip catch than the one Andrew Strauss took at Trent Bridge in 2005,external-link but if you're splitting hairs Jordan's was better because he had less time to think about it.

Who knows, on a surface like this, it could be the difference between drawing the game and getting a much-needed victory.

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's James Gheerbrant.