IF ENGLAND are today denied the whitewash that would provide a fitting climax to what has already been a momentous series, then it will be in large part due to Rahul Dravid.
The India batsman’s stubborn 146 not out in the tourists’ first innings of this fourth and final Test at The Oval was in stark contrast to the meek surrenders of most of his team-mates in recent weeks.
It accounted for almost half of their innings total of 300 – incredibly, the first time in this series India have reached that mark – and galvanised a side who had resumed on 103-5.
Yet it may not be enough. Dravid, only the third Indian to carry his bat in a Test innings, could manage just 13 more runs, after England enforced the follow-on, before becoming Graeme Swann’s fifth scalp of the match, and India ended the day 129-3, 162 runs behind.
Their best hope may be that Sachin Tendulkar, still chasing that elusive 100th international century, continues in the same vein that saw him make 35 not out before stumps last night. Swann, however, has at last found conditions that suit him and will fancy his chances of taking further wickets in south London as England aim to wrap up their first Test victory as the world’s No1 side.
India started solidly, with captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni the only victim before lunch, and Dravid brought up his century from 168 balls with a dab for two off Tim Bresnan (3-54).
Amit Mishra (43) shone briefly before Ian Bell caught him one-handed off Bresnan, and Gautam Gambhir (10) was next to go, Kevin Pietersen with a simple catch from a Stuart Broad (2-51) delivery.
RP Singh made a rapid 25 that nudged India to 300 before Bresnan removed him and last man Sreesanth in the space of three balls.
Dravid was soon back at the crease as England enforced the follow-on and survived an early review before being caught on 13 by Alastair Cook at short leg off Swann.
The Nottinghamshire spinner then bowled Virender Sehwag (33) through the gate and James Anderson (2-49) ripped out VVS Laxman’s (24) off-stump as England’s attack bared its teeth again. Tendulkar appeared to be stumped by Matt Prior before close but England did not appeal.