Gayle set the tone with a quickfire 69 before lunch while Ramnaresh
Sarwan was unbeaten on 41 with West Indies scoring their runs at
almost four an over.
England coach Duncan
Fletcher said the flat nature of the pitch meant the bowlers had
to be more patient if they are to stop West Indies amassing a big
"You can see they
have prepared a pretty flat pitch and at some stage Lara was going
to get runs," Fletcher said.
"I think we could
have kept the pressure on more, but it's a big test for the bowlers
Trailing 3-0 and looking
to avoid a first ever whitewash on home soil, West Indies won the
toss and decided to bat on the same St John's ground that yielded
1,315 runs in the final test against Australia 11 months ago.
While England's bowlers
could perhaps be forgiven for not hitting the heights of the opening
three tests, West Indies' batsmen at last showed the kind of spirit
that had been so sorely lacking.
After a slow start, the
decision to bat looked a good one as Gayle punched boundaries almost
at will off Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard.
Harmison, needing just
six wickets to set a record of 28 wickets in a series between the
two sides in the Caribbean, was a little wayward early on and West
Indies took advantage.
Only a bowling change
brought about the breakthrough for England as Andrew Flintoff trapped
Daren Ganga lbw for 10.
After surviving a confident
appeal for a catch behind to test debutant Geraint Jones when on
nought, Lara never looked back, while Gayle brought up his 14th
half-century with a neat push through the covers.
Just as it looked like
he and Lara would survive until the interval, Gareth Batty, called
in for Ashley Giles who was struggling with a stomach upset, caught
Gayle off his own bowling.
"I haven't made
many runs lately, so I am very happy with 69," Gayle said,
"but I am a bit disappointed to get out at a crucial time.
captain and Sarwan batted well and hopefully they can cash in now."
The heavens opened during
the lunch interval and after 45 minutes of heavy rain, no play was
possible before tea, partly due to concerns over the bowlers' run-ups.
When they finally returned
at 4.05pm local time, Lara and Sarwan took up where Gayle had left
off, picking holes in the England field and showing the concentration
and application that had been absent in Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados.
Lara brought up his 44th
test half-century with a brutal pull in front of square off Simon
Jones - the most expensive of England's bowlers.
Sarwan too played superbly,
his only real cause for concern coming when he got an inside edge
onto his groin off Batty.
Flintoff returned late
on to try to tempt Lara to drive wide outside his off stump but
the captain was into his stride by then and survived comfortably.