Lawrence Booth writes on cricket for the Daily Mail. His fourth book, What Are The Butchers For? And Other Splendid Cricket Quotations, is published in October 2009 by A&C Black
At The Oval, August 18-22. England won by an innings and eight runs. Toss: England.
By 3.39 p.m. on the final afternoon, when Sreesanth missed one last slog at Swann, the superlatives had run dry. England, already confirmed as Test cricket's No. 1 team, had completed their first whitewash of a supposedly top-class team in a series of four games or more (neither West Indies, who lost 4-0 in 2004, nor the 1959 Indians, who went down 5-0, fitted the bill). And they had done it with their eighth innings win in 17 games - a sequence beyond even Clive Lloyd's West Indians and the Australian sides of Steve
Waugh and Ricky Ponting. If the presentation to Strauss of the ICC mace - England's reward, along with kudos and bragging rights, for topping the rankings - felt as self-conscious as the Oval PA's renditions of "Land of Hope and Glory" and "Jerusalem", then the excesses were forgivable. England had been superb, and it was to their credit that of the four Asian teams to have toured Britain in 2010 and 2011, India - now down to third in the rankings, behind South Africa - had been made to look the worst.
For a while it seemed as if England's brilliance might be overshadowed by a light at the end of India's tunnel. Fretful for much of the series, Tendulkar looked set to reward the thousands of his compatriots who had secured fifth-day tickets by notching his 100th international hundred. But, nine runs short, he was given out leg-before to Bresnan, a brave but justifiable decision from Rod Tucker which at once drained the life from Tendulkar's features and the Indian innings. Including the nightwatchman, Mishra, who had fallen four balls earlier to end a gutsy partnership of 144 - India's highest of the series - their last seven wickets crashed for 21. Four of those went to Swann, who might have dismissed Tendulkar on five occasions but, finally encountering a pitch that did his bidding, was just happy to finish with his second six-wicket haul in Tests.
In truth, a Tendulkar century would have been wasted on India, who were spared an even worse hiding by Dravid, the third Indian to carry his bat in Tests after Gavaskar and Sehwag. But their selection policy again looked flawed as R. P. Singh, who had been called up from holiday in Miami, leapfrogged Munaf Patel to play his first Test for more than three years. Cheerfully overweight yet granted the new ball, Singh sent down an abysmal first over - leg-side and mid-to-late 70s mph - which invited ridicule on a rainy first day limited to 26 overs, all before lunch.
On the second morning, India's bowlers briefly remembered their virtues. Cook reverted to his early-series form by nibbling at the fifth delivery, while Strauss managed only two singles in an hour before driving loosely. But Bell and Pietersen were in no mood to give it away. United only in their right-handedness, they were an intriguing study in contrasts: Bell full of back-foot elegance, especially on the late cut; Pietersen a front-foot force of nature. Runs came in flurries - after lunch, Pietersen tucked into Mishra, while Bell took five fours in eight balls from Sreesanth - and India wilted.
Bell was first to three figures, his 16th Test hundred, at a record eighth British venue (oddly, only Edgbaston, his home ground, continued to elude him). Then, from the first ball after tea, Pietersen moved to his 19th century with a pull for four off Sharma, before immediately miscuing an attempted repeat. Gambhir, though, stumbled backwards as he grasped at the chance at mid-on, dropped the ball and banged his head on the turf. The result was minor concussion, which would later force him down the order - and out of the tour altogether - and upset India's batting line-up once more.
The partnership eventually reached 350 before Pietersen checked a drive to provide a return catch to Raina. Momentarily shocked, The Oval duly rose. Only Compton and Edrich had added more for England's third wicket, against South Africa at Lord's during their summer of summers in 1947, and no pair had done better for any England wicket against India. It was also England's biggest partnership in Tests since 1985, when Gooch and Gower put on 351 against Australia on another Oval flat one.
Bell pressed on the following morning, gliding past his previous Test-best of 199 with a glance for four to bring up a double-hundred from 331 balls in seven hours 20 minutes, including 20 fours and two sixes, struck consecutively off Mishra. By the time he fell on the slog-sweep for a blissful 235 - England's highest score against India at The Oval - he had stroked the bowlers into submission with a velvet glove.
A lengthy break for rain on the third afternoon robbed Bopara of the chance to massage his average, but Strauss's declaration - after England had equalled their previous record of three successive innings of 500 or more, set in 2002 against Sri Lanka - meant India's respite was short-lived. Sehwag cracked a couple of fours, then fell in his first over for the third innings in a row, and Laxman feathered Broad. When Swann struck three times in the evening sunshine - his victims including Tendulkar, who swept once too often, and Raina, marginally stumped for a 29-ball duck - England had made up for lost time.
All the while, Dravid stood firm, like a lonely security guard repelling a gang of looters. He reached his 35th Test hundred - and his sixth in England - on the fourth morning, and steered India to their first total of 300 of the series. It was a pyrrhic victory for, with India still trailing by 291, Strauss invited Dravid to start all over again. Almost cruelly, he reappeared ten minutes later, but was soon walking back - 133 runs worse off - to another round of generous applause, adjudged caught at short leg off Swann by TV umpire Steve Davis after Tucker had ruled not out. Dravid later admitted he got an edge.
Swann, a virtual bystander all series, was ripping it now, and bowled the twitchy Sehwag through the gate before Anderson skittled Laxman, playing down the wrong line. Tendulkar was granted a life on 34 when England carelessly failed to appeal for a stumping off Swann, and resumed on the fifth morning in the knowledge that a century would at least line India's cloud with silver.
Initially, luck was with him. Cook missed a sharp chance at short leg when Tendulkar had 70, and on 79 he was fortunate to survive a leg-before shout on the sweep. Prior dropped him on 85, and two balls later he padded up perilously. Swann was the luckless bowler each time, but at 2.20 p.m. he hustled one past the dogged Mishra's outside edge.
Moments later, Bresnan - with the first ball of a new spell - persuaded Tendulkar to aim across the line. For a moment, time seemed to stand still. This was not quite Bradman's Oval duck of 1948, but the impact on India was immediate. Raina fell lbw to complete a gruesome 42-ball pair - although replays showed an inside edge - and when England claimed the second new ball the end came with embarrassing ease.
Dhoni was soon lamenting India's failure to bat in partnerships, which was another way of saying they had been outplayed. Strauss, whose 44th Test win as a player beat Colin Cowdrey's England record, also passed Peter May's tally of 20 Test wins as England captain and now trailed only Michael Vaughan (26). He soaked up the praise while urging caution. If that was typically English, it also told of the pragmatism on which he and Andy Flower had built their team. Who knew common sense could produce such riches?
Man of the Match: I. R. Bell. Attendance: 103,771. Men of the Series: England - S. C. J. Broad; India - R. Dravid.
Close of play: First day, England 75-0 (Strauss 38, Cook 34); Second day, England 457-3 (Bell 181, Anderson 3); Third day, India 103-5 (Dravid 57, Dhoni 5); Fourth day, India 129-3 (Tendulkar 35, Mishra 8).