London: Ruthless England came down hard on wounded and battered India, but the visitors had fingernails dug in at the edge of the cliff. Forced to bat at Nos 2 and 3 respectively, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman were made to look ungainly by some testing seam and swing bowling, but they batted out 131 deliveries between them to leave India another 98 overs to survive on the final day, with nine wickets in hand. Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar were not available to bat in their usual positions because of injury and illness respectively.
Those tuned into the match would have known that the real game on the fourth day would begin some time in the final session, when England - 193 for 0 effectively at the start of day - would declare to leave India four sessions to bat, give or take. The journey to that point proved fascinating too. Ishant Sharma, a rhythm bowler, found his rhythm against a surprisingly suspect batting line-up, reducing England to 62 for 5, incredibly bringing an Indian win into the faint edge of the frame.
Matt Prior and Stuart Broad, though, shook India out of their dream with a 162-run seventh-wicket stand, all but ruling out an Indian win. Prior summed up the England team's attitude when he began attacking India during those shaky moments, scoring a century at a strike-rate of 85.83, although defensive fields meant he hit only five fours and a six. And Broad could do no wrong. After his unbeaten half-century, he took a wicket in the first over of a spell for the third time in this match, removing Abhinav Mukund who once again looked solid before he sighted Broad.
Until Prior and Broad counterattacked, India did decently in the absence of the hamstrung Zaheer Khan. It helped that England were in their shell at the start of the day even though the ball hardly swung then. During that period Praveen Kumar dismissed Alastair Cook for a rare single-digit score, and Andrew Strauss fell to his second ordinary sweep off Harbhajan Singh.
The next hour belonged to Ishant. No matter where this matches goes, that spell of 5-3-4-3 held significance for the rest of the series. For starters he let Kevin Pietersen know that he will not be bullied. In the first innings, Pietersen had put Ishant completely off his line and length by walking across and towards him. Today Ishant welcomed him with a bouncer, got extra bounce and the glove. Then followed the two quintessential Ishant wickets. Ian Bell got one that left him against the angle, taking the edge. Two wickets in one over. Two overs later, Ishant got one to move in sharply to Jonathan Trott, against the slope, and hit the top of off. That ball was meant to get greats out.
Sixty-seven runs came in 26 overs before lunch, for the loss of five wickets. Post lunch, India weren't as aggressive. They didn't begin with Ishant, who had bowled 11 overs in the first session. When they reintroduced Ishant, he got Eoin Morgan with a short ball that did the batsman for pace.
Prior, though, didn't inhabit the shell his team-mates had. Faced with his aggression, India backed off a bit. The running between the wickets was aggressive too. The fielders wilted. MS Dhoni, having an ordinary Test as a wicketkeeper, dropped a tough chance from Broad, and then failed to go for another to his left after he had placed the first slip wide. The lead was 326 and 331 at those points.
Prior didn't offer any chances. He exploited the in-and-out field well. Every time he got room he drove emphatically, anything straight was punished into the on side, and potentially the biggest blow was a meaty sweep into Gambhir's elbow at short leg, minutes before tea. The batsman had to go to a hospital for an x-ray, and came back just before stumps with the news that there was no fracture.
Prior had broken India's spirit, though. Post tea, he and Broad went into Twenty20 mode, scoring 95 runs in 12 overs. Ishant's earlier resurgence now seemed just a minor blip. India took off their tired specialist bowlers, no longer making an effort to make England bat as long as possible. Dhoni brought himself on, making Dravid, due to open the innings in a matter of minutes, keep wicket.
That didn't seem to affect Dravid's concentration when he walked out after Prior's century heralded the declaration. The openers saw off eight overs, but Broad came on to dismiss Abhinav in a fashion similar to the first innings: played on. That brought together the old firm of Dravid and Laxman, who were thoroughly tested by Broad, Chris Tremlett, Graeme Swann and James Anderson.
Like with Abhinav, England tried a repeat dismissal with Laxman, keeping their fine leg square and bowling into his ribs. Laxman pulled three boundaries to let England know he won't let them keep bowling short at him. England didn't have a first-innings dismissal for Dravid to go by. Still they did well enough to him. Tremlett and Broad especially bowled superb outswingers. While the two applied themselves, there was some luck involved too as it invariably does in such situations: they were beaten 15 times between them.
One Broad over summed up the kind of odds the two were fighting. The first ball swung away late, beating the outside edge. Dravid looked to cover the movement of the next ball, but this one came in and kicked to beat the inside the edge. Dravid looked for the bounce, but the next one stayed low. The bat came down in time, and it came coming down in time until stumps.