England close in on victory after scaling 'The Wall'

England 591-6 v India 300 & 129-3
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The Independent Online

Even 'The Wall' no longer stands between England and the likelihood of a 4-0 npower series whitewash over India at The Oval tomorrow.

It took the world's number one Test team more than seven hours to finally knock over Rahul Dravid, whose unbeaten 146 was a saving grace of India's inadequate 300 all out before he fell in controversial circumstances as India followed on 291 runs behind.

By stumps on the penultimate day of this fourth Test, they had mustered 129 for three - but still had much work to do to make England bat again, let alone save the match.

First time round, Dravid carried his bat but received support only from the tail in what would have been a pitiful response to 591 for six without him.

England were pushed into the unfamiliar territory of the second new ball almost single-handedly by Dravid but also by the defiance of Amit Mishra and RP Singh.

The shame for India was that only one frontline batsman lived up to his billing on a perfectly feasible pitch.

Pushed up to open for the second time in the series, Dravid reattuned himself to the position expertly in the absence of Gautam Gambhir - who was able to bat eventually at number nine, having suffered concussion on Friday.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni kept Dravid company for only 12 overs this morning, his fidgety innings ending when James Anderson struck with his 10th ball - a routine caught-behind, off an outswinger. Dravid's only moment of concern came when a direct hit from Kevin Pietersen would have run him out on 61, after a mix-up with Dhoni over an aborted single.

He plundered the last three of the 15 boundaries in his 168-ball hundred in one Swann over, then reached the milestone - for the 35th time in Tests - with a dab to third-man for two off Tim Bresnan.

Dravid has made one more Test century than his childhood hero and India great Sunil Gavaskar, is fourth on the all-time list, only the third from his country to bat throughout an innings at this level and the only member of this touring party to have reached three figures this summer.

That equates to seven England hundreds, one of many jarring statistics which are symptomatic of an unexpectedly one-side series.

Mishra batted admirably in a stand of 87 either side of lunch, headlining his innings by smashing Swann over long-on for six from the last ball of the morning.

It took a memorable piece of cricket from England to shift him, deploying Ian Bell at short square-leg where he took an outstanding one-handed catch away to his right from a pull at Bresnan (three for 54).

Gambhir dealt poorly with a short ball into his body from Stuart Broad, which resulted in an easy catch looped to gully.

But Singh then dominated a ninth-wicket stand of 36 to at least carry India to 300 for the first time in the series - before Bresnan returned to have him well-caught at third slip and then last man Shantha Sreesanth at cover in the space of three balls.

As India started again six overs before tea, it was not a great surprise to see Dravid resuming in Gambhir's published place alongside Virender Sehwag at the top of the order.

The latter, who had previously made eight runs from eight balls in three completed attempts since his return at Edgbaston last week, thrashed an inside-edge past leg-stump for four from Anderson's first delivery of the innings.

It was a shock that Dravid's should be the first wicket to fall, albeit via a DRS procedure which was far from convincing.

Swann thought he had his man caught at bat-pad - and so it proved, despite Rod Tucker's initial not-out verdict, no supporting Hotspot evidence and only a video-replay impression rather than proof of a thin edge.

There was no doubt about Sehwag's departure, bowled through the gate by Swann pushing out at a big off-break.

Sachin Tendulkar walked out to the standing ovation which has been habitually reserved for him throughout this series, but this time before what might prove his last Test innings in this country.

He played well too, to be there at the close, alongside 'nightwatchman' Mishra - after Anderson had produced a very good ball to knock out VVS Laxman's off-stump and end a stand of 54.

It might have been even better for England, had Matt Prior chosen to appeal for a stumping off Swann shortly before the close when Tendulkar had his foot in the air - but such is the strength of their position they probably will not to live to regret their generosity. REUTERS

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