England overcome Dravid heroics
England remain on course for a comprehensive victory in the fourth npower Test at the Kia Oval – and a series whitewash – despite a tremendous display of defiance from Rahul Dravid on day four.
The vastly experienced 38-year-old, who has been India’s only consistent performer with the bat this summer, exhibited exceptional levels of skill and concentration as he compiled an unbeaten 146 in India’s first innings, his third century of the series.
In becoming only the third Indian to carry his bat in a Test innings, after Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag, Dravid was chiefly responsible in lifting the tourists from their overnight score of 103 for five to 300 all out.
However, he was then removed for 13 after England had enforced the follow-on and India duly reached stumps on 129 for three, still trailing by 162.
Dravid, who also reached three figures at Lord’s and Trent Bridge and now sits fourth outright on the all-time list of Test centurions with 35, opened in place of Gautam Gambhir in both innings, the left-hander having suffered mild concussion on day two.
He was rarely troubled in the first two sessions, his only real scare coming on 61 as a mix-up between the wickets almost led to him being run out by Kevin Pietersen.
India’s cause was aided by lower-order resistance from Amit Mishra, who contributed 43 before being brilliantly caught by Ian Bell, and RP Singh, the next highest scorer with 25.
Tim Bresnan claimed the last two wickets to fall in the space of three balls to finish with 3-54 from 17 overs.
When India were invited to bat again, Graeme Swann had Dravid caught at short-leg following a review and then bowled Virender Sehwag through the gate for 33.
Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman shared 54 for the third wicket, but the latter was then comprehensively bowled by James Anderson, leaving Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men with much work to do if England are to be denied a fourth straight win.
Dhoni endured a torrid time against Stuart Broad this morning and the Nottinghamshire seamer was unfortunate to see an edge land agonisingly short of Andrew Strauss at first slip.
The introduction of Anderson brought an end to the wicketkeeper-batsman’s unconvincing innings as he feathered an outswinger through to Matt Prior.
Dravid, who resumed on 57, had settled into his stride by this point and duly raced to three figures after drinks. He displayed exemplary footwork to collect three classy fours and a quick single in one over from Swann before a late cut for two off Bresnan took him to his century from 168 balls.
The veteran received able support from Mishra, whose positive approach yielded six fours and a tremendous six over long-on off Swann from the final ball of the morning session.
It took a sensational piece of fielding from Bell, who struck 235 in England’s first innings, to account for the leg-spinner after lunch. Stationed at an unusual position of short backward square-leg, Bell leapt to his right to pull off a stunning one-handed catch after Mishra had rocked back to pull Bresnan.
Gambhir finally came out to bat following Mishra's exit and was subjected to a barrage of short deliveries from Bresnan.
Dravid remained composed, however, and a classical cover-drive off Swann brought him his 16th four.
England’s off-spinner almost accounted for Gambhir soon after, but Alastair Cook was unable to hold on to a sharp chance at short-leg.
Anderson and Broad then returned as the hosts took the new ball at the earliest opportunity.
Each struggled to make an impression initially, but Broad struck a key blow in the fourth over of his spell as Gambhir attempted to fend a short ball into the leg side and succeeded only in looping a catch to Pietersen in the gully.
Singh helped the tourists to 300 with a combination of lusty blows and fortuitous edges, but he then steered Bresnan to third slip and Sreesanth swiftly followed, caught at cover by Eoin Morgan.
Dravid, who had continued to look in excellent form was therefore left stranded, but returned 10 minutes later to open India's second innings with Sehwag, who had made eight runs from eight balls in his three previous visits to the crease.
The flamboyant right-hander came close to making yet another early exit when he inside-edged Anderson’s first ball past the stumps, but went on to collect two more convincing fours as he advanced to 16 at tea.
Dravid was given out, caught at short-leg by Cook off Swann, in the first over of the evening session, but the decision was quickly overturned when, following a review, replays showed there had been no bat involved.
However, England benefited from a review of their own six overs later as Dravid, who had been fortunate to see a faint edge off Swann dropped by Prior, once again provided Cook with a catch and replays suggested umpire Rod Tucker had been wrong to ignore the fielding team’s appeal.
Sehwag had briefly hinted at a return to form, but departed when a looping delivery spun through the gaping hole between bat and pad.
Swann could easily have struck again prior to the close as he continued to gain extravagant turn, while Laxman, on 20, was dropped by a diving Strauss at slip off Anderson.
The Lancashire seamer was not to be denied and ended Laxman’s innings on 24 with a wonderful ball that held its line and took out off stump as the batsman played inside the line.
Mishra was bizarrely introduced as a nightwatchman and made it through to stumps alongside Tendulkar, who looked in good touch and could yet record his 100th international hundred on the final day.
The Little Master, who ended the day on 35, did benefit from one moment of fortune as England chose not to appeal when it appeared as though Prior had effected a stumping.
With the hosts in such a dominant position, it appears unlikely to matter.