West Indies struck early blows but England quickly consolidated through half-centuries from Ollie Pope, Rory Burns and Jos Buttler, to gain a crucial foothold in the decisive third Test at Old Trafford on Friday.
Sent in, the hosts were in cruise control on 258 for four when bad light ended play with just over four overs left on the opening day in England’s northwest.
Pope, a compact right-hander, was closing in on his second Test hundred on 91 not out and was partnered by wicketkeeper Jos Buttler, whose unbeaten 56 represented his first half-century in 15 innings.
The pair have so far added 136 in a critical unbroken fifth wicket partnership and remained rock solid until the end, defying a late three-over burst from Kemar Roach and Shannon Gabriel with the second new ball.
Pope has faced 142 balls and counted 11 fours while Buttler has struck five fours and two sixes – two clean leg side hits in the same over from off-spinner Rahkeem Cornwall, brought in for his first match in place of seamer Alzarri Joseph.
Stodgy left-handed opener Rory Burns chipped in with 57 as England opted for steady rather than the spectacular in the contest they need to win in order to regain the Wisden Trophy which they surrendered last year in the Caribbean.
Veteran seamer Kemar Roach was the best bowler with two for 56.
With the three-match series locked 1-1 after the opening games were split, West Indies needed a bright start and got one with the sixth ball of the morning when Roach pinned Dom Sibley lbw on middle stump with a full length delivery, removing the second Test century-maker without scoring with a single run on the board.
Captain Joe Root (17) arrived to pair with Burns, posting 46 for the second wicket to keep West Indies without further success for the rest of the hour.
However, the tourists finally got the breakthrough about 25 minutes before lunch when Burns forced a sharp single to backward point and Root failed to beat Roston Chase’s direct hit at the striker’s end.
On 66 for two at the interval, England flourished following the resumption as Burns and Ben Stokes (20) extended their third wicket stand to 45.
The left-handed Stokes, coming off 176 and 78 not out in the last game, never quite found his stride, however, and perished about 40 minutes after lunch, bowled by a beauty from Roach which nipped back to rattle his stumps.
Burns, who faced 147 balls and struck four fours, completed his seventh Test half-century on the stroke of the hour with a single behind square off the ineffective Gabriel but fell with tea approaching, slashing at one from off-spinner Chase and brilliantly taken at slip by Cornwall moving to his right.
With England on 122 for four and two new batsmen at the crease, West Indies were presented with the ideal opportunity to make further inroads but Pope and Buttler collaborated to deny them any further success.
They guided their side to tea on 131 before dominating the final session as West Indies’ bowlers struggled to find the breakthrough.
Unbeaten on 24 at tea, the 22-year-old Pope in his 10th Test, reached his fifty off 76 balls inside the first hour of the resumption, stroking seamer Jason Holder to the cover boundary to bring up the landmark.
Buttler, on two at the break, reached his half-century on the verge of the close, with a couple to cover off Chase.