Centurion Sehwag puts India in front
Swann leads England fightback; Pujara sparkles
Isn’t a batsman, who last scored a Test hundred two years and 30 innings ago, supposed to be nervous? Isn’t he expected to prod and edge around against a top class international attack even on a flat pitch like the one at Motera?
But then Virender Sehwag has always been an anti-thesis to the common laws — one who prefers to set his own rules and write his own script. If India reached 323 for four at close in the opening day of the first Test against England on Thursday after M S Dhoni decided to bat first, Sehwag’s fearless approach and his 23rd Test hundred (117, 117b, 15x4, 1x6) had a massive hand in it, along with Cheteshwar Pujara’s mature unbeaten 98.
The sight of Sardar Patel Gujarat Stadium might have come as a big relief for the struggling Delhiite. It was at this venue Sehwag made his last Test hundred — 173 against New Zealand in November, 2010. Speculations about the nature of the pitch here had contributed handsomely to the build-up of this Test match, and the very first delivery of the day offered an answer.
James Anderson’s short of length delivery failed to rise even up to the knees of Gautam Gambhir, and the left-hander tucked the ball to on-side for a single to open India’s run hunt. Gambhir remained in passive mode throughout his innings of 45, but Sehwag at the other end was in pristine touch.
English pacers’ troika of Anderson, Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan tried hard in the initial parts but there was nothing to exploit for them on the pitch or in the conditions. But that will in no way take the sheen out of Sehwag’s effort because more than the English bowlers, the right-hander had to battle the demons in his mind, product of a long barren period.
A calm mind is the premier prerequisite for a batsman or for that matter any sportsperson aiming to wriggle out of a dry spell, and Sehwag proved on a sunny day that his mind and thoughts have remained untouched by the pressures lack of runs can bring about. Till the fifth over, Sehwag was in a self-wrapped cocoon, perhaps, assessing the nature of the relaid Motera pitch, and the skill levels of English bowlers to counter the such tracks.
Once he felt satisfied about both the elements, Sehwag broke free and he indicated the shift in mindset with a flick to the long leg fence of Anderson, collecting four runs.
From that point, a familiar Sehwag resurfaced, a stroke-maker of the highest order with scant regard for the opposition. Sehwag punished Anderson for three boundaries in an over to blunt the edge of England’s pace spearhead, and then hammered Bresnan for two fours and six in consecutive balls, leaving the England bowlers no corner to hide.
The dismissal of Gambhir, castled by Graeme Swann, brought Pujara to the middle, and they built on the cushion of the 145-run opening wicket stand in brilliant fashion. Once again Sehwag was the dominant partner, and Pujara flourished around his senior colleague as England camp ran out of ideas. England skipper Alastair Cook too failed to put pressure on the Indians, often allowing some easy runs setting defensive fields. In fact, England had only one slip for pacers even before the play entered its second hour.
With big gaps available on the field, Pujara and Sehwag milked runs quite easily, also draining England bowlers of energy and morale.
The much-anticipated moment came when Sehwag lofted Swann, who was clearly the best English bowler on view on the day, over mid-wicket for a boundary to reach the three-figure mark, but he couldn’t stay on for a bigger knock, an attempted slog-sweep off Swann failed to connect as the red cherry disturbed the woodwork.
By then Sehwag and Pujara added 90 runs for the second wicket to take India to a strong position, but the cheap dismissals of Sachin Tendulkar and Virat Kohli had given England some footing at the end of the day. Tendulkar played a poor stroke to be caught in the deep while Kohli, who was dropped by Trott off Swann when on four, was later bowled by the off-spinner for his fourth wicket. Despite those succeses, a powdery pitch and few cracks on it will keep the English camp an anxious lot.
INDIA (I Innings)
Gambhir b Swann 45
(127m, 111b, 4x4)
Sehwag b Swann 117
(209m, 117b, 15x4, 1x6)
Pujara (batting) 98
(234m, 181b, 13x4)
Tendulkar c Patel b Swann 13
(25m, 18b, 2x4)
Kohli b Swann 19
(70m, 67b, 3x4)
Yuvraj (batting) 24
(53m, 47b, 2x4)
Extras (B-1, LB-5, NB-1) 7
Total (for 4 wkts, 90 overs) 323
Fall of wickets: 1-134 (Gambhir), 2-224 (Sehwag), 3-250 (Tendukar), 4-283 (Kohli).
Bowling: Anderson 17-3-66-0, Broad 17-1-71-0 (nb-1), Bresnan 10-0-56-0, Swann 32-5-85-4, Samit Patel 14-2-39-0.