At 5pm yesterday, after an entire tour of single-handed resistance, "The Wall" was pierced. It did not take much to be convinced that with Rahul Dravid no more, India would come tumbling down.
Dravid had batted throughout the fourth day of the fourth Test as he had batted throughout the series: calm, unyielding, impassable. He had already made his third century, carried his bat and was engaged in the business of further resistance with his side following on.
With every nerveless, measured stroke he demonstrated why someone long ago called him "The Wall". He made Leonidas look like a soft touch. But finally, with the ball turning and bouncing at last for England's off-spinner Graeme Swann, he pushed forward and the ball took an inside edge on to his pads, looping towards short leg where Alastair Cook, leaning back to his left, took a sharp catch.
It took a few minutes to confirm the dismissal. Umpire Rod Tucker, who had already made one lapse, gave Dravid not out. But England asked for a review and eventually, though the evidence did not seem clear-cut except for the feeling that it simply looked out, Dravid was on his way for the last time in this series.
India were then 49 for one and still 242 behind. By the close they had cut the deficit further to 162 but had lost two more wickets. Sachin Tendulkar was still there, though he might have been stumped towards the end when wicketkeeper Matt Prior decided against appealing with the great man's foot seemingly in the air.
Maybe Prior is a sentimentalist after all. An England win and a Tendulkar century today – his 100th in internationals on his final Test appearance in England – would be a perfect combination for the expected full house. It is about time Tendulkar came out of Dravid's shadow. A draw is India's only hope, the series is already lost but Swann at last has a pitch on which he should be able to operate effectively.
For England not to go 4-0 ahead and complete a whitewash, India will have to show guts, tenacity and will today, of which, except for one man, they have been bereft from the moment they landed on these shores. It is at best improbable.
That they made 300 – just – for the first time in the series and took the match into the fifth day was almost solely down to Dravid's efforts. He has now batted for more than 24 hours, starting with the first match at Lord's last month, and despite all England's runs it is four hours longer than any of their batsmen.
There was an inevitability about Dravid's century yesterday which was, if anything, greater than the inevitability about an England victory. If England could have sent him back early yesterday the match could easily have been won before tea. But that is not Dravid's way. He ticked along well enough for most of his stay but his great strength is that he is not affected as others would be by being pinned down for long periods. He simply sees it as part of the job.
Quietly, he encouraged his partners to dig in. Thus, England were kept waiting. It took 45 minutes to remove the captain, M S Dhoni, who was undone by an away swinger which immediately followed an inswinger. Dhoni might have left it but it was a classic piece of bowling from the leader of England's attack, Jimmy Anderson. His side needed a wicket and he took it.
There followed India's only prolonged partnership of the innings. Amit Mishra chanced his arm and played a a series of audacious blows, all of which suggested that the end was nigh. He was just beginning to annoy England when he pulled a short ball from Tim Bresnan and seemed in no danger. That is, until Ian Bell took off to his right at short backward square leg and held the ball in his right hand after first palming it.
Gautam Gambhir stayed for an hour but what a grotesque innings it was. He had been diagnosed with mild concussion after banging his head while fielding and batting was clearly an ordeal for him. England proffered some comments about his bravery or perceived lack of it and they peppered him with short balls.
Eventually, to everyone's relief, Gambhir parried one to third slip. R P Singh played a few more aggressive blows which took India up to 300, a score that had seemed a pipedream at the start of the day. But Bresnan came on to finish off the innings with two wickets in three balls and England had no hesitation in enforcing the follow on.
This is unfashionable these days because of the apprehension of batting fourth and because it usually gives opponents their only possible chance of actually winning. But there was not the time for England to need to worry about such calculations.
Dravid had already batted for 379 minutes and ten more later, with Gambhir still unfit to take his place at the top of the order, was in again. The first hurdle, to ensure that Virender Sehwag saw out the first over for the first time in the series, was safely negotiated.
England thought they had the breakthrough when Dravid was given out, caught off bat and pad by umpire Rod Tucker, but Dravid knew otherwise and the review supported him. In Swann's next over Dravid appeared to get a faint edge, although byes were given after the ball brushed the gloves of wicketkeeper Matt Prior.
But soon enough England had the wicket they craved. Sehwag for a while was a model of restraint but Swann bowled at him with masterful control, teasing him to drive. Then he turned one through the gate from well outside off. Had Shane Warne bowled it, it would be the ball of the century. For V V S Laxman the series has been wretched and when Anderson produced a peach of a ball which held its own and sent his off-stump reeling it was the last thing he and India wanted or needed.
Stats magic: The numbers that matter from the fourth day
1,025 Andrew Strauss's batting helmet – the one minus a chunk of the peak after England's captain ducked into an Ishant Sharma bouncer on the first day of the Test – went for more than £1,000 after being put up for auction.
1 And still India have just the one century-partnership so far this series – 128 between Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh at Trent Bridge. Dravid and Amit Mishra were close to reaching three figures but Ian Bell's stunning catch put paid to that.
35 Rahul Dravid has left two other greats trailing by scoring his 35th Test century. He was bracketed with Brian Lara and Sunil Gavaskar (34), but no more. Now only Sachin Tendulkar (51), Jacques Kallis (40) and Ricky Ponting (39) are ahead of him.
12 England have had some thumping wins in recent months but you have to go back a dozen Tests (Pakistan last year) for the last time they made the opposition follow-on.
30,000 Rahul Dravid became the first batsman to face 30,000 balls in Test matches during his innings yesterday.
300 This was the first time in the series that India had passed 300. In their previous six innings, their highest total was 288. In only one of their completed innings in the three-match series against West Indies which preceded this tour did they pass 300.
42 Dravid became the 42nd player to carry his bat, the first since Imran Farhat for Pakistan two years ago. The two India batsmen previously to carry their bats were Sunil Gavaskar in 1983 and Virender Sehwag in 2008.
Fourth Test (Fourth day of five): India, with seven second-innings wickets remaining, need 162 runs to avoid an innings defeat by England
England won toss
ENGLAND First Innings
Friday Overnight 457-3 (Pietersen 175)
I R Bell lbw b Raina 235
364 balls 2 sixes 23 fours
J M Anderson c Laxman b Sreesanth 13
26 balls 2 fours
E J G Morgan c Dhoni b Sreesanth 1
R S Bopara not out 44
75 balls 3 fours
†M J Prior not out 18
28 balls 2 fours
Extras (b6 lb8 w7 nb10) 31
Total (for 6 dec, 153 overs) 591
Fall: 1-75, 2-97, 3-447, 4-480, 5-487, 6-548.
Did not bat: T T Bresnan, S C J Broad, G P Swann.
Bowling: R P Singh 34-7-118-0 (1nb, 1w) (7-2-19-0, 6-2-15-0, 5-2-8-0 1nb, 5-0-26-0, 5-1-23-0 1w, 2-0-5-0, 4-0-22-0), I Sharma 31-7-97-1 (1nb, 1w) (4-1-7-0, 4-1-10-0, 6-3-7-1, 2-2-0-0, 4-0-24-0, 3-0-17-0 1nb, 4-0-16-0,
4-0-16-0 1w), S Sreesanth 29-2-123-3 (4nb) (6-0-26-0, 6-1-15-1 1nb, 4-0-28-0 1nb, 7-1-26-0 2nb, 6-0-28-2), S Raina 19-2-58-2 (2-0-5-0, 5-0-19-0, 5-1-12-1, 7-1-22-1), A Mishra 38-3-170-0 (4nb, 1w) (20-2-67-0 2nb, 9-0-62-0 1nb 1w, 9-1-41-0 1nb), S Tendulkar 2-0-11-0 (one spell).
Progress: Day 3:, 500 in 132.3 overs, 550 in 144.2 overs, Lunch: 591-6 in 153 overs (Bopara 44, Prior 18). Bell: 200 331 balls, 20 fours, 2 sixes
INDIA First Innings
V Sehwag lbw b Anderson 8
6 balls 2 fours
R Dravid not out 146
266 balls 20 fours
V V S Laxman c Prior b Broad 2
S R Tendulkar c Anderson b Swann 23
34 balls 4 fours
S K Raina st Prior b Swann 0
I Sharma c Cook b Swann 1
*†M S Dhoni c Prior b Anderson 17
50 balls 2 fours
A Mishra c Bell b Bresnan 43
77 balls 1 six 6 fours
G Gambhir c Pietersen b Broad 10
62 balls 1 four
R P Singh c Anderson b Bresnan 25
23 balls 5 fours
S Sreesanth c Morgan b Bresnan 0
Extras (b8 lb9 w7 nb1) 25
Total (94 overs) 300
Fall: 1-8, 2-13, 3-68, 4-93, 5-95, 6-137, 7-224, 8-264, 9-300.
Bowling: J Anderson 16-7-49-2 (5-1-12-1, 5-3-10-1, 6-3-18-0), S Broad 21-3-51-2 (7-1-13-1, 3-0-9-0, 5-2-10-0 1nb, 6-0-19-1), T Bresnan 17-3-54-3 (2-0-5-0, 5-0-20-0 1w, 5-1-16-0 1w, 4-2-8-1, 1-0-5-2), G Swann 31-5-102-3 (22-4-77-3, 2-0-10-0, 6-1-10-0, 1-0-5-0), K Pietersen 7-1-27-0 (1-0-3-0, 3-1-12-0, 3-0-12-0), R Bopara 2-2-0-0 (one spell).
INDIA Second Innings (Following on)
V Sehwag b Swann 33
67 balls 5 fours
R Dravid c Cook b Swann 13
32 balls 2 fours
V V S Laxman b Anderson 24
42 balls 4 fours
S R Tendulkar not out 35
51 balls 5 fours
A Mishra not out 8
18 balls 1 four
Extras (b8 lb8) 16
Total (for 3, 35 overs) 129
Fall: 1-49, 2-64, 3-118.
To bat: G Gambhir, S K Raina, *†M S Dhoni, R P Singh, I Sharma, S Sreesanth.
Bowling: J Anderson 9-2-39-1 (3-0-21-0, 6-2-18-1), S Broad 6-3-8-0 (one spell), G Swann 15-2-51-2 (one spell), T Bresnan 5-0-15-0 (one spell)
Progress: Day 4, First Innings: 150 in 49 overs, 200 in 62.3 overs, Lunch: 218-6 in 66 overs (Dravid 109, Mishra
38), 250 in 77.5 overs, 300 in 93.2 overs. Dravid: 100 168 balls, 15 fours. Second Innings: Tea: 25-0 in 6 overs (Sehwag 16, Dravid 7), 50 in 13.2 overs, 100 in 24.5 overs, Close: 129-3 in 35 overs (Tendulkar 35, Mishra 8)
Umpires S J A Taufel (Aus) & R J Tucker (Aus).
TV umpire S J Davis (Aus).
Match referee R S Madugalle (S Lanka).