Another entertaining start from Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan has extended England's lead to 121 in the final npower Test at The AMP Oval. At stumps on the fourth day England had reached 114 without loss, with Vaughan on 47 and Trescothick 58. But the day again belonged primarily to Rahul Dravid, whose 217 was the highest first-class score of his career.
Vaughan would have been on his way for a duck in the first over if a throw from Sourav Ganguly at cover had hit the stumps direct after Trescothick had called him for a sharp single. In the event both batsmen started briskly, and it came as no surprise when Anil Kumble was brought on in the sixth over, and Harbhajan Singh in the 11th. But although the rate slowed, each batsman made the most of the rare loose deliveries, sweeping productively against both spinners. When Ajit Agarkar replaced Harbhajan, Trescothick pulled him strongly to reach 50 (82 balls, eight fours).
Earlier it took a magisterial innings of 217 by Rahul Dravid to carry India to within seven runs of England's first-innings total. Record piled upon record for Dravid; initially he became the first to 1,000 Test runs for 2002 this morning, as first Dominic Cork, again bowling short, and Alex Tudor were expensive. Tudor was unlucky when Dravid, on 168, edged a firm drive and Ashley Giles, diving to his right in the gully, got a hand to the ball but couldn't hold on. When Andy Caddick returned Giles fared better, clasping a similar stroke from VVS Laxman that went straight to him in the same position. Laxman had added 113 with Dravid, a record for the fifth wicket against England at The Oval.
Agarkar made an edgy start, and after lunch Dravid played and missed at Caddick for what seemed the first time in living memory. But four off Matthew Hoggard through mid-off took the man they call "The Wall" to 199, and a pushed single behind square leg did the trick that Vaughan has twice missed so narrowly in this series. Dravid's double century was the 16th at this ground, and when he passed 202 he reached the highest score by an Indian in any series against England. Vaughan then brought England their second breakthrough of the day as Agarkar, having hit him mightily over long-off for maximum reward, got a peach of an off-break that turned prodigiously, plucking out his middle stump as he essayed another belligerent drive.
In Vaughan's next over Ajay Ratra, the new batsman, drove firmly back at the bowler who misfielded, deflecting the ball to Giles at mid-on. Dravid answered Ratra's optimistic call too late, allowing Alec Stewart time to break the wicket with the batsman well short. Dravid's 217 had included 29 fours and came off 468 balls. He has scored 602 runs in six innings in this series. Ratra did little to atone for the error, edging an away-swinger from Caddick to Mark Butcher at slip. Kumble was quickly caught at slip off Giles, who then bowled Harbhajan off his pads to end the Indian innings. Despite England's excellent start in their second innings, it is hard to envisage a positive result tomorrow.