England in command as India stumble

England players celebrate the fall of a wicket on the third day of the fourth and final Test Getty Images

By Ashish Shukla

London: Aug 20, 2011

A listless India faced the prospect of an embarrasing series whitewash after yet another batting collapse left them struggling at 103 for five in reply to England’s massive 591 for six declared on a rain-hit third day of the fourth and final Test.

The hosts rode on Ian Bell’s (235) maiden double century and Kevin Pietersen’s 175 to pile up an imposing first innings total and then had the Indians on the mat after riping through their top-order on a Oval track which still seems good for batting.

The visitors, who need to draw the match to avoid slipping to the number three position in the ICC Test Championship Table, lost the wickets of Virender Sehwag (8), VVS Laxman (2), Sachin Tendulkar (23), Suresh Raina (0) and night watchman Ishant Sharma (1) on the extended final session of the day to give England the upperhand in the match.

Rahul Dravid was the only batsmen to have shown some fight with a gritty 57 that came of 108 balls while giving him company was skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (5) when stumps were drawn on the third day of the match, which was marred by a three-hour rain interruption soon after lunch.

Off-spinner Graeme Swann was the pick of the English bowlers, scalping three wickets for 27 runs.

With two full days of cricket left and with India’s batting looking brittle, it will prove to be a herculean task for the battered visitors to save the match and avoid a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of England.

Earlier, replying to England’s mammoth total India were forced to change the batting order yet again as Gautam Gambhir did not open the innings because of a pre-cautionary medical check-up for mild concussion after he hurt himself on the second day yesterday.

Gambhir’s head hit the ground hard while attempting a catch yesterday. He was later taken to the hospital for a scan as he was feeling uncomfortable this morning. In Gambhir’s absence, Dravid opened the innings with Sehwag while Laxman came at the number three position.

Earlier, England’s plan of a 700-plus total took a hit due to unsuspected rain in the afternoon. Resuming at 457 for three, England added 134 more runs for the loss of three wickets from 30 overs in the two hours of the opening session of the day, which also saw Bell notching up his career-best score.

But a slight drizzle took over as soon as players left the ground for lunch and it got heavier and steadier soon, making any chance of play impossible in the afternoon session. The match finally resumed after a delay of nearly three hours with England declaring at 591 for six and Indians being asked to negotiate 33 overs in the remainder of the day.

The signs were bad for the visitors straightaway as regular opener Gambhir did not come out to bat because of the injury.

Sehwag, who had bagged a king’s pair in the third Test at Edgbaston last week, took the first strike. He let go the first two deliveries before hitting two successive fours through the off-side of Anderson in the first over.

But the English pacer had the last laugh when he dismissed Sehwag LBW in the final delivery of the over with a ball that came in after pitching.

VVS Laxman, who came into bat at number three, lasted just seven balls as he nicked a Stuart Broad delivery to Matt Prior behind the stumps. Sachin Tendulkar came in to a standing ovation for what surely must be his last Test on these shores.

Soon after his arrival at the crease he was hit on the helmet by a short delivery from Broad but Tendulkar responded in style, driving Broad to the long-on fence in the very next ball. Tendulkar had two other anxious moments — he was hit on his elbow, again ducking to Tim Bresnan when on 14 and then almost gave a caught and bowled opportunity to the same bowler.

He was otherwise elegant in his short stay, cutting Bresnan for four and then employing the sweep shot against Graeme Swann no sooner he was introduced in the 15th over of the innings.

Tendulkar though departed in Swann’s third over, trying to sweep the off-spinner only managing to get a top-edge which James Anderson accepted gleefully just behind the wicketkeeper.

Tendulkar batted for 67 minutes and 34 balls and hit four fours during his innings. The 53 runs he shared with Dravid for the third wicket was enough for them to become the highest run-making pair ever in Test history, overtaking 6482 runs.

Ironically, Dravid at the other end was in complete command. He neither appeared tired nor upset at being once again asked to open the innings. He began with a cut off the front foot off Anderson and then followed it up with an ondrive to midwicket and a steer to the third man fence off the same bowler.

Dravid also whipped Bresnan to the square leg boundary once and then hit Swann against the break for one past the extra cover fence. The right-hander then took a heavy toll of Bresnan whom he clipped behind square, pulled to midwicket, steered to third man and cut to the mid-wicket fence.

Dravid reached his half century in 93 balls with a single on the off-side.

On the other hand, Suresh Raina, who has found this series an unnerving experience, was determined to stick it out this time around. Raina handled the short-pitched deliveries better but failed to open his account during his 29-ball stay. He was given out stumped off Swann on a line decision.

After Raina’s dismissal, India decided to send in night watchman Ishant Sharma, who predictably fell prey to Swann’s guile, edging the off-spinner to forward short-leg for one run.

Earlier, starting on his overnight score of 181, Bell reached his milestone with minimum fuss and was finally adjudged leg before for 235 off part-time spinner Raina’s bowling.

Bell is England’s third double centurion of the series after Kevin Pietersen and Alastair Cook scored one each in the first and third Tests respectively. Bell also completed 5000 runs in Test cricket in the process.

The morning session saw 134 runs being scored from 30 overs losing only three wickets, one of which was of night watchman Anderson. Sreesanth has been the most successful among the Indian bowlers with three for 123.

Bell who batted close to eight and half hours faced 364 deliveries in the process and his innings included 23 boundaries and two sixes. (PTI)

Brief Scores: England 591 for 6 dec (Ian Bell 235, Kevin Pietersen 175, Ravi Bopara 44*, Andrew Strauss 40, Alastair Cook 34; S Sreesanth 3 for 123, Suresh Raina 2 for 58, Ishant Sharma 1 for 97) lead India 103 for 5 (Rahul Dravid 57*, Sachin Tendulkar 23; Graeme Swann 3 for 27) by 488 runs.

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