Sydney 2004 minus the pain

It was Sydney 2004 all over again, only without the crushing disappointment of being so near and yet so far. That epic final day, when Australia actually dared to have a tilt at a 443-run windmill, is now best remembered for the soap-operatic manner of Steve Waugh's exit - 80 gritty runs, red rags by the thousand and a lap of honour on the shoulders of his team-mates - but it shouldn't be forgotten how close India came to ending an unbeaten home run that stretched back to 1992-93.

In Sydney, India were chasing a dream. Here, they had seen it almost become reality with marvellous batting on the opening two days. All that remained was to consolidate and ensure that the advantage gained at Trent Bridge wasn't squandered. Those removed from the dressing room and unaware of the fatigue that can catch up with bowlers when they play back-to-back Tests can argue themselves hoarse about the mistake of not enforcing the follow-on, but at the end of the day, Rahul Dravid and India have the series trophy to show for their efforts. Quibbling about the margin just seems pathetic, especially when you've won nothing of note outside the subcontinent since the days of Live Aid.

The biggest common denominator with Sydney was the nature of the pitch. As Kevin Pietersen said at the press conference later, it might still have been good to bat on a week from now. At Sydney too, where Anil Kumble strained every sinew for a 12-wicket match haul, Australia managed 357 for 6 in less than a day of batting.

Then, as now, a great batsman with a sense of occasion thwarted the Indians. Waugh's last act was magnificent, and his battle with Kumble as the afternoon wore on quite gripping. Here, it was Pietersen, surely destined to be one of the greats of this era. At Lord's, he dug deep to produce the best century of his career so far. At The Oval, with victory no more than a chimera, he eschewed flamboyance for long periods, leading the side to safety before some belligerent strokeplay illuminated the final session.

Kumble wasn't the force that he was four years ago, and Zaheer Khan looked knackered after his series-winning exertions, but India had a rejuvenated Sreesanth to give them a whiff of victory. Dravid said later that he'd like Sreesanth to be recognised for what he does with the ball on the field, and when he bowls quick outswing with that beautiful seam position, you can overlook the silliness that was on display at Trent Bridge.

India didn't need to win this game, but it wasn't as though they sleepwalked to a draw. Had Alastair Cook been given out early on the fifth morning - the delivery from Sreesanth struck both pads, but still didn't convince Ian Howell - or if Dravid had held on to a fairly straightforward chance that Michael Vaughan offered when he was just 18, it might have been a different story.

But hard-luck stories are a dime-a-dozen in sport. At Sydney, for all the pressure that they piled on, India fell short. Here, a magnificent innings ensured that they couldn't close out the game, but the larger spoils were theirs to savour. Nothing else matters.