For 80 delightful minutes yesterday, it seemed that what was billed as the 2,000th Test match would have the most fitting of adornments. Sachin Tendulkar was in his pomp, taking the art of batting into a different dimension, serenely intent on becoming the first man to make 100 international hundreds.
His timing, his power, his absolute certainty were all things of beauty. In the early-afternoon sunshine of the third day he enthralled a full house who had given him a standing ovation all the way to the crease, aware not only that they might be seeing him for the last time but that the making of history was at stake.
But it was not to be Tendulkar who, at long last, made a Test hundred at the ground where every player wants to make a Test hundred. He was dislodged during a compelling spell of fast bowling by Stuart Broad, who utterly confounded those who suggested he be dropped for this match.
Instead it was Rahul Dravid, at the sixth time of asking, who managed to achieve the milestone which will have his name inscribed on the dressing-room honours board. The day, however, belonged to Broad and England.
Only Dravid (pictured) offered substantial resistance, and without him this match would be heading England's way faster than a couple of Tendulkar's cover drives sped to the boundary. Had Dravid been caught at slip, as he should have been when he was 42, a series lead might well be in prospect.
As it is, England are running out of time. They managed a significant first-innings lead of 184 but it might have been above 200, when they would have been sorely tempted to impose the follow-on. Now their captain, Andrew Strauss, is likely to have the teaser of when to declare. England faced five overs at the end and reached 5-0.
Broad had been miscast in the role of England's enforcer. So much did he appear to relish the sobriquet that he had spent the early part of this summer delivering a diet of bouncers and grimacing at both opponents and team-mates. It made him look the part but the job he was supposed to be doing as a fast bowler – taking wickets – was overlooked.
There was no question that he was fortunate to keep his place for this match and Tim Bresnan, the other candidate, could equally consider himself unfortunate. But Broad changed his spots, or rather his length. From the moment he came on yesterday, he was fast and full in length and on off stump – the length and direction favoured by most of those fast bowlers who have enjoyed durable careers. His rewards were more or less immediate.
England were becoming anxious for a wicket when he entered proceedings for the first time. The opening pair of Jimmy Anderson, slightly off song, and Chris Tremlett, on song but with the occasional duff note, had failed to make a breakthrough. Broad had already caused some concern for the batsmen when he struck in his third over with a ball that had to be played and seared its way through Gautam Gambhir's groping forward prod. Three overs later he persuaded an apprehensive Abhinav Mukund, in sight of his fifty, to reach at a wider one which rebounded off the inside edge on to the stumps.
After lunch, the cricket was quite perfect. For perhaps half an hour Tendulkar and Dravid batted perfectly. Tendulkar played a brace of imperious drives off the back foot, Dravid laced a couple through the covers. England did not quite look the bowling attack they had been cracked up to be. And then came Broad again from the Nursery End. It was clear that it would need something special to remove Tendulkar in this mood, and something special it was.
Seeing that the ball was in his zone, he moved forward to drive but it swerved away at the last minute, took the edge and Graeme Swann snaffled the catch low at second slip. England were so overjoyed that they temporarily lost their bearings.
Without addition, the new batsman, VVS Laxman, was badly dropped at first slip by Strauss, who barely had to move but reacted slowly. Broad managed to contain his annoyance. Somehow he managed to do so again – is this a new man, who understands that everybody makes mistakes? – when later in the over, Dravid was undone by one moving away and the ball flew wide of second slip. Swann did the necessary hard work but having got two hands round the ball, it spilled out.
This was costly stuff. Although Laxman hardly outstayed his welcome, misjudging a Tremlett bouncer, and Suresh Raina was outsmarted by Swann, Dravid never put another foot wrong. He was kept company by his captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, to put the avoidance of the follow-on in sight and ensure India were not swept aside.
The second new ball did the trick for England, Tremlett inducing catches behind from Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh. Praveen Kumar gave a brief object lesson in the meaning of lusty blows and the follow-on was thus avoided.
Dravid made a late dash to his 33rd Test hundred, which was received with great warmth. During the course of it he became the second-highest run-scorer in Tests, overtaking Ricky Ponting, and is now behind only Tendulkar. He began his Test career at Lord's 15 years ago with 95 and it seemed that he might rue forever the five runs he did not make that Saturday. But this time, from 222 balls in a little more than five hours, he did. It may yet keep India at 0-0 in the series.
India won toss
England — First innings 474-8 dec (K P Pietersen 202 no, M J Prior 71, I J L Trott 70; P S Kumar 5-106)
India — First innings (Overnight: 17-0)
A Mukund b Broad 49/117/5/0
G Gambhir b Broad 15/87/1/0
R Dravid not out 103/344/15/0
S R Tendulkar c Swann b Broad 34/90/6/0
V V S Laxman c Trott b Tremlett 10/46/2/0
S K Raina lbw b Swann 0/3/0/0
*†M S Dhoni c Swann b Tremlett 28/102/2/0
Harbhajan Singh c Prior b Tremlett 0/2/0/0
P S Kumar c Strauss b Broad 17/26/2/0
Z Khan b Anderson 0/17/0/0
I Sharma c Prior b Anderson 0/15/0/0
Extras (b5 lb11 w1 nb12) 30
Total (95.5 overs) 286
Fall: 1-63, 2-77, 3-158, 4-182, 5-183, 6-240, 7-241, 8-276, 9-284.
Bowling: Anderson 23.5-6-87-2; Tremlett 24-5-80-3; Broad 22-8-37-4; Trott 6-1-12-0; Swann 19-3-51-1; Pietersen 1-0-3-0.
England — Second innings
Bls 4s 6s
*A J Strauss not out 31700
A N Cook not out 01300
Extras (w2) 2
Total (for 0, 5 overs) 5
To Bat: I J L Trott, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, E J G Morgan, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, G P Swann, C T Tremlett, J M Anderson.
Bowling: Kumar 3-0-4-0; I Sharma 2-1-1-0.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and B F Bowden (NZ).
England lead by 193 runs