Fourth Test

England v India

Rob Smyth

At The Oval, September 5, 6, 7, 8, 9. Drawn. Toss: England. This match was the thriller that never was. It was Tendulkar's 100th Test, and an absorbing series was there for the taking. Beforehand few people expected a draw, but a tranquil pitch and two fearful sides ensured there was never much danger of anything but. It was the series in miniature. Vaughan and Dravid played epic innings - sharing almost 19 hours at the crease in a match where nobody else lasted four; both sides passed 500 as bat suffocated ball, and neither was better than the other. The result was dull, but fair.

Weary limbs and faint hearts spoiled what should have been an intoxicating broth. Only 20 wickets fell in 353 overs, before a last-day washout saved everyone from some end-of-term torpor. It was the first Oval draw since 1995, when a series decider against West Indies proved similarly unproductive. At the end there were no recriminations, no tears or jeers: England, savaged by injury, were happy to cut their losses and limp off unbeaten, while India, even though they had again failed to win their first series outside Asia since 1986, would have taken a draw after being well beaten at Lord's.

England made two changes from the side mangled at Headingley. Trescothick was rushed back in place of Key, despite having played no first-class cricket since breaking his thumb seven weeks earlier, and Flintoff 's overdue hernia operation brought another stay of execution for Cork. India recalled Ratra, fresh from a century against Derbyshire, for the injured 17-year-old Patel.

Once Hussain won an apparently critical toss, he and a sell-out crowd were able to put their feet up and savour another Vaughan masterclass as England stormed to 336 for two at the close. Vaughan had made 182 of those, mostly with drives that were both pristine and urgent. His first 100 came off 195 balls, and the last 82 off only 71 as he persecuted Kumble, depositing him time and again through mid-wicket against what little spin there was. At least one Indian might have grudgingly approved: Laxman had done just the same to Warne during his classic 281.

Vaughan became the sixth man to make four Test hundreds in an English summer after Herbert Sutcliffe, Don Bradman, Denis Compton, Allan Lamb and Graham Gooch. Not since Gower had an Englishman played with such radiance, but the similarity extended to anticlimactic dismissals when, in the fourth over of the second morning, Vaughan fished at a good one from Zaheer Khan and was caught behind for 195, his second attack of the nervous 190s in three Tests. His dismissal induced England to blunder wretchedly through the second day. Only 179 runs came off 65 overs for the loss of eight wickets, and it was hard to recall such an imposing score - they passed 500 for the fifth time in the summer, having not done so for five years before that - being accompanied by such a fear of failure. Only Cork showed any oomph. Pumped up by suggestions that he was out of his depth at No. 7, he celebrated his third Test fifty with a seven-fingered salute to the press box.

India did bowl well: Bangar's cunning out-swingers gave the middle order just enough rope to hang themselves, and Harbhajan Singh, who took his ninth Test five-for, was far too good for a hard-handed tail. In direct contravention of the laws of spin bowling, all nine of those five-fors had come when India fielded first.

Sehwag went early, again proclaiming his limitations as an opener, but the glimmer of light England saw soon vanished as Dravid unfurled a mercilessly dead bat. They simply never looked like making multiple incisions. The main man should have been Giles, but on a turning pitch he would not take a wicket until his 46th over, another sounding of the death knell for the English finger-spinner. Tudor bowled himself out of the Ashes tour, while Cork, picked to kiss the pitch in Hussain's words, preferred to pummel it.

All the while Dravid ground on and on, false strokes as rare as a steak tartare, to become the first Indian to make centuries in three consecutive Test innings in the same series since Sunil Gavaskar in 1970-71. He also took his crease occupation for the series past 30 hours - an entire Test match, or eight showings of the Oscar-nominated Lagaan - and eventually made his highest first-class score, in ten and a half hours. What he didn't do was dominate, or even accelerate. If Headingley was his arthouse classic - an innings the connoisseur knows will not be bettered - this was Dravid's blockbuster: grander in scale and spectacle, but a colder, more deliberate affair which never set the pulse racing. It was an innings of limited ambition, four hours longer than Vaughan's, and not nearly as good.

The enchantment instead came from Tendulkar, who at 29 became the youngest man to play a century of Tests. He received a standing ovation as he came to the crease, and as he breezed to a boundary-laden 54, nothing looked surer than a second, louder ovation when he reached 100. Then, in the blink of an eye, Caddick - England's best bowler by a long way - trapped Tendulkar lbw on the full, and a disbelieving crowd came to realise the fun was over.

India settled for sedate progress and England for containment, as Hussain's field placings and fed-up body language evoked Atherton more than Brearley. Dravid was finally run out for 217 after a poor call from Ratra - it really was the only way England were going to see him off - and stalemate ensued. Any thoughts of Harbhajan and Kumble making merry as Chandrasekhar had here 31 years earlier were soon dispelled by Trescothick, who made a second beefy fifty, and the inevitable Vaughan. They launched another jet-propelled century partnership, and blew away the last vestige of a positive result.

The last day might have brought Vaughan a record-breaking fifth hundred but nobody was too disappointed. It had been a long, taxing summer; Test cricket had never before been played in England as late as September 9, and still hasn't. Most people were happy to go home and put their feet up. The spectators could, anyway: most of the players were due in Colombo for the Champions Trophy three days later.

Man of the Match: R. Dravid
Men of the Series: England - M. P. Vaughan; India - R.Dravid

© John Wisden & Co
 
Sponsored Links

Why not you? Read and learn how!