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At The Oval, August 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. Drawn. Toss: India.
Rahul Dravid became only the third Indian captain to win a Test series in England, after his team registered the biggest total in all matches between these sides and effectively batted Michael Vaughan's men out of the game. The significance of the draw would have hit Vaughan especially hard: it sealed not just his first home series defeat as captain, but only the second for England in the 21st century, following the 2001 Ashes.
The "Jellybeangate Affair" lingered on from Trent Bridge, and continued to dominate the back pages throughout the build-up. But, despite so much hanging on the outcome, this Test was played in a healthy and competitive manner. The ICC's senior and most respected referee, Ranjan Madugalle, had ordered England and India to be on their best behaviour following the childish and unsporting conduct of both teams a fortnight earlier, which not only calmed tempers but surely prevented further unsavoury scenes - there was some dreadful umpiring. The official in question was the South African Ian Howell, who had made his Test debut a week after Australia's Simon Taufel, but was standing in only his ninth game here compared to Taufel's 43. No one was safe, and Ganguly received the worst decision of all when his promising 37 in the first innings was cut cruelly short by Howell's failure to detect a deafening inside edge. Ganguly somehow managed to rustle up a smile as he left the crease and, even in the most trying of circumstances, nobody showed dissent.
One strong argument against three-Test series is that the spin of the coin can have a major influence; England can count themselves unlucky to have lost the toss at Trent Bridge and The Oval. The pitch looked a belter, and Dravid knew that all he and his formidable array of batting talent had to do was to bat for the best part of two days and the series would be theirs.
This India achieved spectacularly, leaving a mountain of statistics and broken records in their wake. (One happened before the match began: this was the first time in history that both sides were unchanged in a series of three Tests or more.) Vaughan must have known as early as the end of the first day that his proud unbeaten home record was hanging by a thread; Karthik and Dravid had ensured that a wholehearted effort by England's bowlers was largely unproductive, although the rejuvenated Anderson looked impressive again.
Prior, who had been roundly criticised for his boorish behaviour behind the stumps in the previous Test, was reminded that no one is bigger than the game. He equalled the record number of byes conceded by a specialist wicketkeeper in a Test and committed two blunders by dropping Tendulkar on 20 and Laxman - when Prior dived anxiously in front of Strauss - on 41. Sidebottom was the luckless bowler each time. Both batsmen went on to half-centuries during a stand of 78, one of eight fifty partnerships; there had been 21 instances of six in a Test innings, but no side had managed even seven before.
Laxman fell to Tremlett in the 12th over of the second morning and, after a period of tight, attritional cricket in which a badly out-of-touch Tendulkar played particularly painstakingly, Anderson had him taken at first slip for 82, scored in five hours. That made it 417 for six, a score that still gave England the faintest whiff of a chance, but no one bargained for the last four Indian wickets adding the small matter of 247 runs. The most exhilarating contribution of the whole innings came, not surprisingly, from Dhoni. He hit two sixes in three balls off Panesar, then two in succession off Pietersen to race to 92 from 80 balls. Two deliveries remained in Pietersen's over, with Dhoni two shots short of his hundred. Typically, he went for glory and perished at deep midwicket.
Still India had not finished and, as every batsman reached double figures (for only the 11th time in Test cricket), the most notable landmark of the match was set by one of the game's most endearing characters. Leg-spinner Anil Kumble has a list of outstanding achievements to his name - not least all ten wickets in an innings against Pakistan. But all bowlers dream of being batsmen, and Kumble could well have felt more pride and elation than at any other moment in his life when he edged Pietersen through Prior's legs to reach his hundred. He became the oldest Indian to score a maiden Test century, at 36 years 297 days; it took him 180 balls, as well as the longestever wait in terms of appearances, his 118 Tests beating Chaminda Vaas's recent record of 97.
When Sreesanth finally fell, leaving Kumble 110 not out, only the most optimistic England supporter felt that there was any life left in the series. To make matters even worse, Strauss casually hooked Zaheer Khan straight to deep square leg before the close.
From now on, it was a case of England making the right noises but, realistically, batting for pride. Collingwood made a good 62 before falling to another "Howeller", and the most fluent innings came from Bell. But as England slipped behind, the only question was whether Dravid would be game enough to enforce the follow-on. In our hearts we knew the answer. Many of the pundits urging him to do so would surely have acted differently had they been in his position, with the burden of expectation of a billion people resting on his shoulders.
As it was, his decision to bat again with a lead of 319 almost backfired when India slipped unbelievably to 11 for three by the seventh over. The dramatic slide was instigated by another miscalculation by Howell, who adjudged Wasim Jaffer lbw when he played no stroke to Anderson. It did not require Hawk-Eye to confirm that the ball would have passed comfortably over the stumps. Tremlett then had Karthik taken at second slip by Collingwood, and Anderson struck again, spectacularly, when he splattered Tendulkar's stumps via the inside edge. England dared to dream, but were thwarted by the absence of Sidebottom through a side strain, and also by Dravid who, with visions of effigies being hastily and angrily prepared throughout India, embarked on one of the most tortuous Test innings ever played. Anderson thought he had him lbw on two, but Howell had by now switched determinedly to "not out" mode. With grim determination, Dravid hauled his team to safety, scoring 12 from 96 balls as Ganguly - noticeably relieved of the pressure of the captaincy - batted with admirable freedom (57 in 68 balls) at the other end.
Dravid finally felt confident enough to declare when his lead stood at 499. England survived 20 overs that evening, and went into the final day needing 444 to win, with all ten wickets standing. As Pietersen - who denied India victory with 101 - asserted afterwards, it is unlikely that that number of runs could ever be scored on a fifth-day pitch, with the fielding captain able to set defensive fields to negative bowling.
Pietersen's critics might point to his unfortunate habit of apparently losing concentration when his personal goal has been achieved, but he was well supported by Bell, who carried his fluency and momentum with great success into the one-day series that followed. Dravid sensed a chance when he needed five wickets with 21 overs to go, but he was more than satisfied with the draw he craved to seal his place in Indian cricket history. A month later, he stepped down as captain.
Man of the Match: A. Kumble.
Men of the Series: England - J. M. Anderson; India - Zaheer Khan. Close of play: First day, India 316