The legend didn’t answer to the name of Sachin Tendulkar, whose 100th international hundred proved elusive for a 15th consecutive innings. Instead, it was Rahul Dravid who hogged the limelight with a fifth century in his last nine Tests.
The Bangalorean’s 36th Test ton, an untroubled, brilliantly crafted masterpiece, more than compensated for the disappointment of the Master not keeping his tryst with history. It also helped India erase a forgettable recent drought with the bat as the hosts finished day one of the second Test against the West Indies on a healthy 346 for five.
Dravid (119, 295m, 207b, 9x4, 2x6) and nightwatchman Ishant Sharma fell within four deliveries of each other before fading light brought an early halt to the proceedings, but not even that late mini-slump redressed the balance of the match. India will look to build on the excellent platform on the morrow, notwithstanding the second new ball – three deliveries young – and the slight infusion of hope in the till then distraught Caribbean camp.
For the first time since Cape Town in early January when they posted 364, India’s batsmen fired collectively. For a third straight innings, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag got them off to a racy start, and the awesome middle-order of Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS Laxman cashed in as the West Indies were at the receiving end of the caning they must have feared would come at some stage.
The Eden track, it must be acknowledged, played better than feared, but there wasn’t much to write home about by way of either pace or bounce. That’s precisely why India’s healthy rate of scoring throughout the day is commendable, putting them in a position from where they can look to dictate terms when batting will become a more demanding ask in the next few days.
No praise can be too high for Dravid, who mocked the sobriquet ‘The Wall’ with a well-paced, fluent innings. The 38-year-old began with a flurry of boundaries after Sehwag had thrown his hand away, took his foot off the pedal in the middle session when the West Indies showed greater discipline, and re-embraced flair and panache post tea with great mate Laxman during the second entertaining association of the day.
The first had come through Gambhir and Sehwag, the latter predictably the aggressor despite being pinged on his helmet by Fidel Edwards off the 15th delivery of the Test. Having kept faith with pace – Kemar Roach came in for the indisposed Ravi Rampaul – Darren Sammy strangely opted to employ himself with the new ball alongside Edwards after losing the toss, and played perfectly into India’s hands.
Sehwag latched on to Sammy with an array of glittering strokes so that by the time Roach came on, he was up and running. The openers put on 66 (64m, 74b) when Sehwag’s wild slog ended in mid-wicket’s hands, the first in a long list of wickets gifted by the hosts. During a second-wicket alliance of 83 (81m, 135b), Gambhir was steady rather than flamboyant, and Dravid then yielded centrestage as Tendulkar played some fabulous strokes during the third consecutive half-century stand of the innings. Only leggie Devendra Bishoo tested the Mumbaikar, lucky to survive a leg before shout on 25 but falling shortly thereafter as he bottom-edged a pull to mid-wicket.
Through it all, Dravid batted with a composure and poise that has become second nature. Between lunch and tea, he struck just one boundary, but in the final session, he batted with greater authority while Laxman wowed the 10,000 that had turned up with lovely twirls of his steely, supple wrists and effortless punches through the covers.
Cheered on by an enthusiastic gathering, Dravid whipped Roach to the long-leg fence for his fourth hundred at this ground before slumped into Laxman’s embrace. The Hyderabadi then brought up his own half-century and India seemed set to go to stumps only three down when Dravid’s lazy cut to a fullish ball from occasional offie Kraigg Brathwaite ended the 140-run (137m, 212b) stand.
A furious Dravid hauled himself back into the hut, where he was joined by Ishant four minutes later. A slightly tame finish, but no prizes for guessing which team had the better day.
INDIA (I Innings):
Gambhir c Barath b F Edwards 65
(146m, 103b, 8x4)
Sehwag c Barath b Sammy 38
(64m, 33b, 8x4)
Dravid b Brathwaite 119
(295m, 207b, 9x4, 2x6)
Tendulkar c Samuls b Bishoo 38
(75m, 71b, 5x4)
Laxman (batting) 73
(143m, 116b, 5x4)
Ishant c Baugh b Roach 0
Extras (LB-5, W-2, NB-6) 13
Total (for 5 wkts, 87.3 overs) 346
Fall of wickets: 1-66 (Sehwag), 2-149 (Gambhir), 3-205 (Tendulkar), 4-345 (Dravid), 5-346 (Ishant).
Bowling: F Edwards 13-0-45-1 (nb-1), Sammy 14-0-78-1 (w-1), Roach 15.3-1-57-1 (w-1, nb-4), Samuels 16-0-65-0, Bishoo 27-1-87-1 (nb-1), Brathwaite 2-0-9-1.