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England get an escape route, courtesy Dravid
- Safety-first move overshadows Sourav’s excellent 57; Hosts need 444 on last day
Sourav Ganguly after reaching his half-century on the fourth day of the final Test at the Oval on Sunday. (AP)

London: The safety-first-and-last types would’ve approved, but few others. More than anything else, Rahul Dravid’s decision to not enforce the follow-on at the Brit Oval has given England the chance to save the third and final npower Test.

It also enhanced his image as a captain reluctant to be aggressive. Reluctant to set a bold agenda. Barring one or two, others would’ve blindly gone for the kill if they had the luxury of a 319-run lead.

Former India captain Sunil Gavaskar, though, didn’t join the debate. “I’m not the captain. I didn’t have to decide,” he told The Telegraph.

There were whispers that spearhead Zaheer Khan had a left thigh strain, which influenced Dravid’s decision, but manager Rocky Rufus rubbished that. In any case, Zaheer bowled in the second innings.

Eight years ago, in the Sachin Tendulkar-Kapil Dev era, New Zealand hadn’t been asked to follow on (in Motera) despite the 275-run surplus. Predictably, it created a controversy.

Cricket manager Chandu Borde defended the latest decision. “We had a discussion… We know the history of this wicket… We’d scored over 400 and almost won that (1979) Test… The wicket is playing beautifully, it’s not helping the spinners as much as we expected… It’s not a question of helping England to draw…”

Can England reach the target (500) and make it 1-1'

Thankfully, the Indian bowlers weren’t around for Borde’s answer — “It’s possible… It’s a very good wicket for batsmen…”

Despite the lifeline, it’s to be seen whether England manage to save the Test. They were 56 for no loss at stumps on the penultimate day.

No team has ever scored 444 on the last day and at no point in the series have Michael Vaughan’s men done anything to raise visions of a record-busting finish.

So, either the hosts hold out for a creditable draw or the Indians make it 2-0.

With Dravid’s decision taking centrestage, everything else almost became a non-event — including his own inexplicable batting (12 in 140 minutes, off 96 balls, 1x4) and Sourav Ganguly’s excellent 57 (95 minutes, 68 balls, 9x4).

Sourav took guard as early as the seventh over (11 for three) and was quickly into stroke-making. Rain meant lunch was taken early and conditions were overcast. Yet, he remained unfazed and drove and swept with aplomb.

The former captain got out loosely, but by then had totalled 249 for the series (second highest after Dinesh Karthik’s 263). Almost surely his last Test innings in England, it was as high on quality as his 131 on debut at Lord’s 11 summers ago.

In comparison, Dravid had another below par series: An average of 25.20. On Sunday, in fact, he was stuck on two for 35 balls and required 91 to hit his only boundary and move into double-figures.

Dravid didn’t make an impact in South Africa either (average 20.83), the last major Test series.

Borde (perhaps, his designation needs to be changed), by the way, defended Dravid’s jeers-inviting innings as well. “It should be seen in the context of where we were… He played for the team…”

Poor Borde risks losing credibility.

James Anderson, who is lethal when his rhythm is right, was the one to send tremors in the Indian dressing room. He sent back Wasim Jaffer (another dubious verdict from Ian Howell) and, then, got Sachin to inside-edge.

The sight of just one stump standing as the maestro walked back would’ve been too much for those who swear by him.

“It was nice to get Sachin… That the stumps were all over the place made it even nicer,” Anderson remarked. Significantly, his figures after four overs read 4-4-0-2.

Wow.

Chris Tremlett, who often gets very awkward to face, and Paul Collingwood also got two wickets apiece. The declaration came at 180 for six.

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