London: Rahul Dravid struck a magnificent century to upstage Sachin Tendulkar and move India to within sight of safety in the decisive final Test with England here on Saturday. At the close of the third day's play at the Oval, Dravid was unbeaten on 131 after claiming his third century in successive Test innings as India finished the day 315-4, just one run short of saving the follow-on.
The former Kent batsman entered the final Test having hit 115 and 148 in his previous two innings, but was largely ignored in the build-up with all the attention on Tendulkar in his 100th Test. But after Tendulkar's celebrations were cut short by an Andy Caddick yorker, it was Dravid who guided the Indians to within 200 runs of England's first innings total of 515.
He had faced 315 balls and struck 17 fours as he became the first Indian to hit three consecutive centuries since Sunil Gavaskar in the West Indies in Tendulkar had looked on course to become only the fifth player in history to score a century in his 100th Test after striking ten fours to reach the half-way mark off just 76 balls. But after advancing to 54, he was trapped leg before by a full length ball from Caddick that struck him on the foot in front of the middle stump. The Bombay master batsman, who also needed only 68 to claim 1,000 Test runs in the year, had been given a rousing reception by another sell-out Oval crowd when he walked out to bat following the early loss of Sanjay Bangar.
Resuming at 66-1, the tourists lost Bangar for 21 in the seventh over of the day after he had added just four runs to his overnight score. The Indian opener pushed forward to a fine Matthew Hoggard delivery and gloved a straightforward catch to Mark Butcher at first slip. After the departure of Tendulkar, Dravid and skipper Saurav Ganguly pushed the score on briskly in the afternoon. Ganguly completed his own half-century before he succumbed to the persistent Dominic Cork.
The England all-rounder sent down a succession of bouncers to Ganguly and profited when the left-hander was tempted into a rash hook which he gloved behind to Stewart, who held his 200th catch as a Test wicketkeeper. Ganguly's 51 included eight elegant boundaries, mostly punched straight down the ground. With the Oval pitch offering little encouragement for the bowlers, the match looks headed for a draw. The four-Test series is tied at 1-1.