| Anil Kumble is congratulated by Wasim Jaffer (left) and Rudra Pradap Singh after capturing the wicket of England captain Michael Vaughan on Day III of the final Test at the Oval on Saturday. (AFP)
London: In a crisis of sorts, Rahul Dravid only has to look towards the second new ball. It did wonders in England’s second innings at Trent Bridge; it worked perfectly at the Brit Oval on Saturday as well.
Not that England were in any position to dictate terms — that equation got dumped in the Thames very early in the third and final npower Test — but ODI captain Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell had been playing their part professionally.
That, too, on a bouncy wicket which encouraged strokeplay.
So, after 81 overs (England 288 for five), the Team India captain asked for a fresh cherry. Beaten by Sreesanth’s swing, Collingwood fell on the last ball of the first over.
That opened the proverbial floodgates with Bell, Ryan Sidebottom (the MRI scan on his left side hasn’t shown any “significant damage”) and Matt Prior perishing to poor shots.
By the scheduled close, then, England plunged to 305 for nine with four wickets tumbling for 17 in 45 balls. Zaheer Khan, brilliant again, and Sreesanth shared the post-tea spoils.
At stumps, England were 326 for nine. They scored 302 during the day, but the loss of eight wickets more or less confirmed that ignominy can’t be avoided.
Full marks to the Indians for largely being able to control the swing — not that there weren’t any wides — and giving England little breathing space.
Rain is forecast for Sunday, but with two days remaining, England will need more than an intervention from the elements to stave off defeat. Even if they do, the series is India’s.
England, of course, did have many moments on Day III. There were combative partnerships — 66 for the second-wicket between Alastair Cook and nightwatchman James Anderson, 78 for the fifth (Kevin Pietersen-Collingwood) and 86 for the sixth-wicket between Collingwood and Bell — and some splendid shots.
However, nobody managed to consolidate. In fact, when up against 664, England needed a couple of big hundreds. Just three fifties (Cook, Collingwood, Bell) would never do.
“Can’t say whether England can save the Test… Much, clearly, is going to depend on whether the follow-on is enforced or not… Dravid didn’t give anything away,” former England captain Michael Atherton told The Telegraph.
Given that the bowlers, particularly the new-ball operators, are getting a night’s rest, Dravid will be tempted to make England bat again.
Interacting with the media, though, he said: “I want to keep my cards close to the chest… We’ve always wanted to win this Test… No other thought ever crossed our minds…”
Dravid added: “It’s been tough captaining at this ground… The runs keep flying… England lost eight wickets (during the day), but scored over 300…”
Collingwood remarked he and his teammates weren’t exactly looking at the scoreboard. If coach Peter Moores was optimistic on the first two days, Collingwood took that line on Saturday.
“Everybody in the dressing room believes we can save the game… There are two days left and we’re going to show a lot of fight,” he insisted.
The second new ball wasn’t, by the way, the only move which clicked for Dravid — Sachin Tendulkar’s sharp leg-break straightaway claimed dangerman Pietersen.
For India, that dismissal (shortly before tea) couldn’t have come at a better time. Earlier, captain Michael Vaughan fell on the last ball before lunch.
“It’s something that comes off at times… You need a bit of luck and we had that this afternoon,” Dravid pointed out.
Capitalising on breaks is important and Cook, despite the 61, is bound to regret not making the most of two let-offs in the morning. Dinesh Karthik put down a regulation catch, while Sourav Ganguly let go a tough one.
A big hundred from Cook and, well, the bottomline could’ve read rather differently.