London: Fifteen years and 153 Tests later, Rahul Dravid returned to Lord's to make it to the honours board and help India avoid the follow-on. On a day that belonged to England, on a day that everybody willed Sachin Tendulkar to get his 100th hundred, Dravid, 38 years and 193 days old, stole the spotlight. Only Alec Stewart has scored a century with a longer tooth in this millennium. India were still behind by 193, looking at having to bat about four sessions to save the match. Had India followed on, though, it wouldn't have been that straightforward.
The spotlight could easily have belonged to Stuart Broad alone. On notice and a subject of "enforcer" jokes, he responded with lovely controlled outswing, and should have removed all of India's top five, but had Dravid and VVS Laxman missed in the slips in the same over. Had those catches been taken, Broad's figures then would have read 5 for 25, and India 159 for 5. While England recovered fairly well from those lapses, Dravid added 61 to the score when reprieved, 23 of them with the tail.
Implored to bowl fuller in the lead-up to the match, Broad did so, bowling the best lengths of all the English quicks, thrice breaking burgeoning partnerships. First he interrupted Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir when the new-ball bowlers looked unthreatening. Then he ended the sublime partnership between Tendulkar and Dravid when they were racing towards safety. The 35-run stand between Praveen Kumar and Dravid threatened to substantially eat into the lead, but once again Broad dismissed Praveen.
Chris Tremlett, not at his best against the left-hand openers, came back superbly to build up the pressure, helping Broad with the wickets. He was the one who brought the follow-in into the picture, removing MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh in the same over after Dhoni had added 57 with Dravid. India needed 34 then to avoid the follow-on, and Dravid 20 to get to the century. Praveen came out and swung merrily, and the 35-run stand helped Dravid achieve both the landmarks.
The way the first two sessions began, it didn't seem England would bowl themselves to a position of such strength. James Anderson and Tremlett failed to engage the openers, who left alone 45 of the 134 deliveries they faced. Abhinav had the odd loose moment, but whipped off the hips in a manner reminiscent of the other Tamil Nadu left-hand batsman who opened for India, S Ramesh.
Broad interrupted that state of affairs, getting Gambhir in his third over with a perfect outswinger. Half an hour before lunch, Abhinav's nerves consumed him when he played on on 49, but Broad contributed, too, by changing the angle and going round the stumps.
The afternoon session was worth every penny the 30,000 spent to be at Lord's today. In the first hour of that session, Tendulkar and Dravid scored 48 of the most couth runs in seven overs, taking India to 150 for 2. Then England made a rousing comeback. Tremlett sowed uncertainty in the minds of the right-hand middle order, and Broad delivered the big blow with an outswinger that took Tendulkar's edge for 34, three short of his best at Lord's.
For a while after that England showed they were very much the gracious hosts, matching India's tally of drops in one Broad over. It was neat outswing bowling, but Andrew Strauss missed Laxman at first slip, and Graeme Swann reprieved Dravid at second. Strauss redeemed himself through superb bowling changes in the rest of the innings. Like Broad did Tendulkar, Tremlett claimed Laxman in the first over of a new spell. Swann half-made up by trapping Suresh Raina 20 minutes before tea. England had upped their game in that session of play: Broad, Tremlett and Swann probed persistently; the final 23 overs of that middle session brought 43 runs and three wickets. Not to mention the drops.
Dravid, though, remained classy. Putting behind him the drop, he covered the swing, played late, and didn't let the occasional miss affect him. The way he read the Anderson inswingers, keeping every single one of them out, summed up his watchfulness. He was equally good against the low bounce from Swann. Having scored 42 off the first 80 balls, he went through a period of 50 balls for just 17, but when the wickets fell, he was urgent in hitting three boundaries in the 80s and 90s.
With the injured Zaheer Khan for company, he clipped Tremlett past midwicket to bring up the hundred, celebrating emotionally. He raised one arm even as he scrambled back for the second, punched the air, and then let out a scream. The crowd, the balcony, and Strauss applauded generously. Anderson showed up then, claiming Zaheer and Ishant Sharma with late swing, gently serving the reminder that England were still in the ascendency, and that India will need to defend grimly to get away with a draw.