Autumn sonatas in different tempos
Unless they do a Bradman and play on till they are 40, Sunday afternoon was almost certainly the last time that an English audience will watch Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman in action. And while one main man crashed and burned, the other dawdled along at a rate that might have reminded Kent watchers of the limpet-like Chris Tavare. It was left to Ganguly to remind those watching just how good the trio once were, with an innings as good as any that he's played since that magnificent 144 at the Gabba.
Tendulkar's dismissal was undoubtedly the most poignant, one stump left standing and the other two flattened after an expansive drive found only the inside edge. Nearly 60 years ago, Bradman departed this venue with a duck. Tendulkar, who Bradman and many other Australians considered the most complete batsman since, trudged off with just one, bearing little resemblance to the man who played those captivating innings at Old Trafford (1990), Edgbaston (1996) and Headingley (2002).
At least he got a standing ovation. Dravid didn't even manage that, ending a poor series with the most turgid of innings. Five years ago, he made 217 here, finishing the series with 602 runs. This time, his 12 spanned 96 balls, and his series tally of 126 will cause more than a frisson of concern with Pakistan and Australia lying in wait later this year.
Having batted beautifully for 55 on the opening day, he could barely time the ball off the square on Sunday. Even full tosses didn't make it past the inner ring, and there were ironic cheers from the crowd when he finally cut a ball for four off the 91st delivery that he faced. Chandu Borde, the manager, defended him later, saying: "We were three down for 11. Somebody has to keep one end going. So he played an innings for the team. He kept going on and on."
At Cape Town at the start of the year, Dravid and Tendulkar were similarly becalmed on the fourth afternoon, allowing Graeme Smith and South Africa a route back into a game that they appeared certain to lose. There too, it was Ganguly who threatened to give the innings some impetus, with a sprightly 46, but Sunday's 57 was of an altogether different class.
There was a time, at the turn of the millennium when he was perhaps one of the three best one-day batsmen in the world, when Ganguly used to be called the God of the off side. At the Oval, it wasn't hard to see why, as he laced a couple of gorgeous drives through the covers before guiding the ball through gully with immaculate timing. Once or twice, the fielders thought of giving chase, only to rethink as the ball seemed to accelerate to the rope.
Amid all the controversies of the past few months - with the early World Cup exit and the no-coach fiasco - his stunning batting renaissance hasn't always got the attention that it's deserved. Invariably, his contributions have come at pivotal times, such as the half-century at the Wanderers and the classy 79 at Trent Bridge. But for two appalling decisions, he might well have finished the series with a century. As it is, he will leave England with 915 runs from nine Tests here, at an average of 65.35.
Just as important for the short-term might was VVS Laxman's return to something like his best. In recent times, he has often been a pale imitation of the imperious strokeplayer that he can be, but in both innings here, he timed and placed the ball with the panache of old. At 32, he's the youngest of the quartet, and as Steve Waugh and Matthew Hayden have shown, quality batsmen are eminently capable of composing autumn sonatas.
Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo