At Mohali, December 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 2008. Drawn. Toss: India.
After the little master's party on the final day in Chennai, it was asking a lot of both teams to trek to chilly Mohali and reprise a game of such quality. That they might well have done but for inclement weather was testament to two sides who appeared to have internalised the grief caused by the terror attacks in Mumbai and used it to make a statement about sport's capacity to heal. Had winter morning fog and poor light in the afternoons not caused more than a day's play to be lost, there could have been another classic.
As it was, India held on to their series lead, and the sparse crowds that braved the cold and the many-layered security cordon went home happy. Even the disappointed Barmy Army stragglers could take great heart from the fight shown by Pietersen and Flintoff. Pietersen, batting with a cracked rib, slammed a glorious 144 in what turned out to be his last match as captain, and his partnership with Flintoff, who for once batted as robustly as he bowled, gave India more than a few jitters on the third afternoon.
On a pitch where batting was never easy, India had centurions of their own to applaud. Gambhir and Dravid shared a 314-run partnership that was two short of India's all-wicket record against England, by Gundappa Viswanath and Yashpal Sharma in 1981-82, and pretty much ensured they could not lose. After his match-turning heroics in Chennai, Sehwag had departed early, justifying Pietersen's decision to pick Broad rather than the temperamentally brittle Harmison. But with Dravid overcoming early nerves and proceeding to play with the straightest and dourest of bats, India went to the end of a curtailed day with no further damage.
England's best chance of breaking the game open was the second new ball but, with Gambhir making serene progress to his third century in four Tests and Dravid rediscovering strokes that had deserted him in recent months, it was India who cashed in on it. Dravid had taken 205 balls to eke out 65 on the opening day, but he was an altogether different batsman on the second, scoring at almost twice his previous rate as he timed the ball sweetly through the covers and flicked off his pads on his way to a 26th Test century. Gambhir, who had scored 104 against Australia at the same venue two months earlier, showed more flair, but was also fortunate to see the odd miscue land safely. Had Swann's excellent appeal for leg-before been upheld by umpire Harper when Gambhir was 71 - just after Collingwood dropped him, also off Swann - the game could have turned. Instead, England were left to play catch-up.
Flintoff bowled furiously quick spells right through the match and, with Anderson finding a modicum of consistency, Swann was emboldened to toss it up and rip his off-breaks a long way, overtaking Panesar as England's first-choice spinner. Under much less pressure than in Chennai, Pietersen set far more suitable, single-saving fields for his spinners. With Tendulkar and the somnolent Laxman both failing, India fell well short of the 500 that had appeared to be there for the taking.
England had to wait to begin their reply until the third morning, when Zaheer Khan illustrated that he could bowl conventional swing as well, getting Strauss for nought in the first over, and Sharma darted one back to knock out Bell's middle stump in the second. Teams subjected to such pressure in India usually subside, but surrender was the last thing on Pietersen's mind as he set about the attack with a dazzling array of drives, sweeps and audacious switch-hits. Dhoni tried to unnerve him by bringing on Yuvraj Singh for the third over: the occasional left-armer had dismissed Pietersen in the one-day series and the Chennai Test, but the continuing banter only seemed to intensify his focus. Pietersen later rubbished Yuvraj as a pie-chucker bowling filth, but it was evident that Dhoni had given him something to think about.
With Cook making a fluent fifty, England started to ease away from trouble. But Zaheer returned to snaffle him and when Mishra, so influential on his debut against Australia on the same ground, summoned up a magnificent leg-break to take the edge of Collingwood's bat, the cordon once again closed in like a crab's claws.
To no avail. After a few deliveries to get the eyes keen and the arms loose, Flintoff launched into some stunning strokes down the ground. With Pietersen in rampant mood at the other end - Harbhajan Singh watched in dismay as a precise switch-hit cleared the rope at cover - the runs came far too quickly for Dhoni's liking. A man with a reputation for daring, he had shown with Australia that he would not hesitate to go on the defensive when the occasion demanded it. Here, he asked Zaheer to bowl wide of the stumps and Mishra to bowl round them and into the leg-stump rough. It wasn't pretty to watch, but it kept England to 71 from 25 overs on the third evening - after they had scored 154 in 36 during the afternoon. The battle of wills was won too, with both Pietersen and Flintoff falling just as the light faded. Pietersen departed in the penultimate over, Flintoff to the last ball of the day after night-watchman Anderson had taken a single to get off the mark and make sure he had never been dismissed for a duck in his 44 Test innings. In so doing, however, Anderson exposed Flintoff to the last three balls, and he was caught at short leg off the third.
India led by 151, but there was an air of uncertainty about their approach to setting a target. Once Sehwag misjudged a single and was run out by Bell, the impetus was lost and, with Gambhir reining in his flamboyance, it made for attritional cricket. A lunchtime declaration on the fifth day, when India were 367 ahead, might have set England a one-day sort of chase, but Dhoni preferred instead to let Gambhir and Yuvraj pursue centuries. Both got close, but not close enough, and all chance of a result had long since disappeared like the morning fog as the English openers walked out needing 403 from 43 overs. The draw ended Dhoni's winning streak as captain at four, and also halted England's losing winter procession.
Man of the Match: G. Gambhir.
Man of the Series: Zaheer Khan.
Close of play: First day, India 179-1 (Gambhir 106, Dravid 65); Second day, India 453; Third day, England 282-6 (Anderson 1); Fourth day, India 134-4 (Gambhir 44, Yuvraj Singh 39).