England denied Sachin Tendulkar nine runs short of a unique place in cricket history to kickstart today’s hectic surge to victory and a 4-0 npower series whitewash of India at The Oval.
Tendulkar (91) and Amit Mishra (84) shut their hosts out for 46 overs in a third-wicket stand of 144 as the tourists dug in to try to save the final Test, before Graeme Swann (six for 106) intervened in an innings-and-eight-run win.
Moreover, Tendulkar appeared destined to become the first batsman to complete 100 international hundreds - only to fall lbw to a very good ball from Yorkshire’s Tim Bresnan and a marginal lbw decision from umpire Rod Tucker.
The Little Master had endured many scrapes in a near four-hour stay. But when he eventually went, the second of five wickets for seven runs, India folded alarmingly to lose their last seven wickets for 21 runs.
It was the culmination of an outstanding campaign which had already seen England depose India as the world’s number one Test team, on the back of a string of headline individual performances this summer.
The last hero for England turned out to be Swann, the world’s leading spin bowler who spent so much of the series watching the seam attack bag wickets ahead of him but at last found conditions in his favour here. For much of a taxing day, England had good reason to regret last night’s generosity - when Tendulkar would have been stumped on 34 had Matt Prior appealed off the bowling of Swann.
A sell-out crowd assembled this morning for the chance to pay homage to Tendulkar, in what may be his last Test innings in this country, and witness England’s coronation as the world’s best.
They seemed set to get value for their money on both counts too, because England would receive their International Cricket Council mace as current table-toppers whatever the outcome here - and Tendulkar demonstrated he was not going to let another shot at that century of centuries slip easily from his grasp.
Mishra appeared at least as comfortable as his illustrious partner, however, confirming the impression of the first innings that he is far from flattered by a first-class average under 20.
The nightwatchman was struck a painful early blow on the left thigh by James Anderson, and required on-field treatment for several minutes.
But he was otherwise untroubled by everything the England attack could muster throughout the morning and well into the afternoon.
Swann was to endure several more pieces of misfortune against Tendulkar, starting just before lunch when Alastair Cook dropped a bat-pad catch at short leg to reprieve him again on 70.
For the first time in an unexpectedly one-sided series, it seemed the force was with India, and it stayed that way when Tendulkar escaped Swann three more times between 79 and 85 - first spilled by Prior and then surviving close lbw calls thanks to umpire Simon Taufel.
Swann’s frustration was becoming increasingly evident - and even after both Mishra and Tendulkar had gone in successive overs, England’s mood was scratchy when an official warning came Andrew Strauss’ way to stop his players walking across the pitch to take their fielding positions.
Hope had been fading, in an ever tightening equation for the hosts, by the time Mishra played inside a delivery that did not turn from Swann but did disturb off-stump.
He had hit 10 fours from 141 balls, and significantly inconvenienced opponents who could hardly believe how their luck had suddenly turned when Bresnan struck with the first ball of his second spell to end the Tendulkar fairytale again.
He needed Tucker’s agreement too, that a ball which jagged in off the seam would have hit leg-stump - a judgment, narrowly confirmed by video simulation inadmissible in this series, which ended a typically high-class 172-ball innings.
England were on a familiar roll once more, and Suresh Raina did not seem a likely contender to stand in their way for long.
So it proved as he contributed a 13-ball duck, making it a runless match for him from 42 deliveries in all, albeit lbw to one that might have both taken a faint inside edge and also cleared the stumps.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni then proved powerless to resist the second new ball, well caught high at second slip by Swann off Stuart Broad, and RP Singh fended the same bowler behind to Prior.
The majority of the crowd were already in celebratory mood, and got the go-ahead to cheer their team to the skies when Shantha Sreesanth was last out in a total of 283 half an hour before tea - bowled, appropriately, by Swann.
For more on from the Oval read Tuesday’s Yorkshire Post.