Over 600 runs in four Tests

G. VISWANATH

FOUR Test matches out of six had produced a result in the long English summer. England had won three (two against Sri Lanka, at Edgbaston and Old Trafford and one against India at Lord's) and India had won one against England (Headingley). So the prospect of a result determining the npower series winner seemed likely. England saved a Test match at Lord's (against Sri Lanka) and India saved one at Nottingham, the contest almost lasting till the last hour.

Nasser Hussain and Sourav Ganguly with the npower trophy after drawing the Test series 1-1.-N. SRIDHARAN

The Oval appeared a perfect setting for a perfect climax and it was Sachin Tendulkar's 100th Test match, too.

But in the end there was disappointment. The inability of the bowlers of both sides to extract life out of a flat pitch and rain on the fifth day contributed to the draw, which was a shame. England's Man of the Series, Michael Vaughan's brilliant 195 might have actually made the Indians a little more cautious in their approach, because chasing a 500 plus total was always going to be a difficult proposition, especially when the teams were deadlocked 1-1.

Rahul Dravid, in dream form, despatches Ashley Giles to the fence.-N. SRIDHARAN

England captain Nasser Hussain's remarks at the post-series press conference gave an insight into his team's troubles and its performances. "I think we played excellent cricket against both Sri Lanka and India. We had injury problems right through the series to our fast bowlers. I think one must also respect the display of the other team. It's been a long summer and to bowl to a batting line-up like that with Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman is not going to be easy. We have proved to be very competitive, now we have to learn to finish matches."

Rain washed out the last day's play at The Oval for the first time in many years. The Surrey County Cricket Club had reduced the price of tickets for adults by almost two-thirds and gave an open invitation for the members and the under-16s. But the vagaries of nature finally interfered with a Test match that might have given a ray of hope for England after openers Marcus Trescothick and Vaughan made 114 without being separated.

One of Harbhajan Singh's five victims in the first innings was Matthew Hoggard, trapped leg before.-N. SRIDHARAN

India would have found a simple way to close out the match by setting a defensive field in the first two hours. The England openers had batted freely against the Indian seamers and spinners, which Hussain pointed, was one of the highlights of the match. "In fact, I have to tell you all a story," he said. "You know, Rahul Dravid (Man of the Series for India) went up to Vaughan at lunch break and asked him how he faced Muttiah Muralitharan." This is probably the first instance of an Asian batsman asking an England batsman as to how he tackled a spinner.

The toss did not turn out to be vital. The seamers posed threats in the two NatWest Trophy Triseries matches at the Oval, but in the first week of September, the pitch could not have been anything but a batsman's friend. As it happened, England made 515, with Vaughan once again being a major contributor and Trescothick marking his return to the England team with a fine half-century. In fact, he had two in the match.

Michael Vaughan, who missed a double hundred yet again, wades into Harbhajan Singh.-N. SRIDHARAN

Indeed, the opening partnership between Trescothick and Vaughan set the tone for a high-scoring match. Mark Butcher made 54 and Dominic Cork proved the point that he could be counted upon as an allrounder. Vaughan was a trifle unfortunate to miss his second double century. But he will be tested by the likes of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Shane Warne - all match-winners in their own right-in the coming Ashes series in Australia.

Andrew Caddick, who picked up four wickets, is congratulated by team-mates for dismissing Ajay Ratra.-N. SRIDHARAN

But Vaughan has good credentials and he has built a reputation. So it will be really surprising if he does not score runs in Australia. Vaughan, for his 195, batted for six hours and 19 minutes, faced 279 balls and hit 29 fours before edging Zaheer Khan to Ajay Ratra. The second-wicket partnership between Vaughan and Butcher (174 runs, 306 balls) and the third-wicket stand between Vaughan and John Crawley (77 runs, 120 balls) literally reduced India's chance of winning the series.

England's lower order contributed nearly 150 runs and although the home team was somewhat disappointed, a total of 515 was still formidable. The Indian bowlers toiled without much success. Sanjay Bangar captured the wickets of Crawley and Hussain, but Anil Kumble struggled to beat the batsmen.

Sanjay Bangar nails John Crawley leg before.-N. SRIDHARAN

But Kumble (14 wickets at 28.18 in the series) and Harbhajan Singh (12 wickets at 28.57) received support from their captain. "I thought both the spinners bowled well in the series. What we need is a bowler who can take five wickets in an innings consistently so that India can win more matches."

India's reply once again was led by Rahul Dravid. He had prevented India from going down 0-2 at Nottingham. "He is one of the top-class batsmen in the world. He has been fantastic right through the series," said Ganguly.

England batted for 10 hours and 38 minutes and faced 155.4 overs, while India played for six minutes short of 12 hours and faced 170 overs. "We have to learn to bowl well on flat wickets," said Ganguly, while his counterpart, Hussain said: "We stuck to our discipline for a flat wicket."

Ajit Agarkar connects air as this Vaughan delivery makes contact with the stumps.-N. SRIDHARAN

Dravid did not leave the scene until he had taken his side to safe waters. It was simply amazing, for Dravid came in at the fall of the first wicket to the fourth ball of the fourth over and left the stage off only the last ball of the 156th over after scoring a classic 217 (628m, 468b, 29x 4). There was support for him from Tendulkar (54, 113m, 89b, 10x4) and Ganguly 51 (117m, 84b, 8x4).

Andrew Caddick was among the wickets dismissing Virender Sehwag, Tendulkar (falling leg before to him for the second time), Venkat Sai Laxman and Ajay Ratra. Hussain bowled him for 43 overs and Ashley Giles for 49 overs. It was clear that the Test was heading towards a draw after the last Indian batsman was dismissed only well into the afternoon on the fourth day.

When Ganguly was told that the big three had made over a thousand runs in three innings, he simply smiled and said: "Hope we keep doing this all the time." Dravid finished at an incredible average of 100.33 followed by Tendulkar at 66.83 and Ganguly, at 58.50. Sehwag tallied 237 and Agarkar 210.

The scores: England 515 (M.Trescothick 57, M.Vaughan 195, M.Butcher 54, J.Crawley 26, D.Cork 52, A.Giles 31, Harbhajan 5-115) and 114 for no loss (M.Trescothick 58 n.o., M.Vaughan 47 n.o.) drew with India 508 (R.Dravid 217, S.Tendulkar 54, S.Ganguly 51, V.V.S. Laxman 40, A.Agarkar 31, Caddick 4-114).

RAHUL DRAVID turned out to be the Marathon Man of the Indian team in England. Every time he went out to bat, he looked like getting a hundred, which is what he did in three consecutive innings at Nottingham (115, second innings), Headingley (148, first innings) and The Oval (217, first innings).

Not many Indian batsmen have been as prolific as Dravid was on the 2002 tour of Old Blighty. Michael Vaughan, who has not let England down since the Lord's Test against Sri Lanka, appeared to have put even someone like Dravid in the shade, but India's vice-captain made a classic 217, 22 runs more than Vaughan to get the top honours in the fourth and final Test of the npower series.

Coach John Wright attributed Dravid's success to the appointment of physical trainer Adrian le Roux. Dravid himself said in the interview that he had lost a few kilos in weight and had kept himself fit and trim.

But essentially, Dravid has the know-how for batting in different conditions, especially in England, where he made his first Test appearance for India six summers ago. A batsman scoring 600 plus runs ought not to have made too many mistakes, but as he said luck also played its role, especially at Headingley where India batted first, defied the conditions and the England bowlers and made 628.

He's not willing to measure his success; he says it's all for the team and the country and that one cannot take the game for granted and that one swallow does not make a summer. He wants to sustain his form and score 1000 runs in a calendar year, often.

To say that Dravid had a fine tour of England would be an understatement. His performance was par excellence. The Big three had a great time in the middle after the Lord's misfortune. They made more than 1,000 runs: Dravid 602, Tendulkar 401 and Ganguly 351.

And yet, Dravid doesn't ignore the batting performances of Ajit Agarkar, Virender Sehwag, Venkatsai Laxman and Sanjay Bangar.

One batsman on each side, Vaughan for England and Dravid for India, dominated the series. Vaughan made 615 runs in seven innings for an average of 102.50, but Dravid's average was also above the centum (100.33) and just too good for a four-Test series. The Channel 4 team chose Dravid for the Man of the Match award because he scored 217 when India was set a first innings target of 515.