Dravid, Dhoni peg Lanka back

Cricket: India recover from early blows to post healthy total

Dravid, Dhoni peg Lanka back


Rahul Dravid lifts a six on the first day of the first cricket Test match between India and Sri Lanka in Ahmedabad on Monday. AFP It was impossible not to reflect on the happenings of 20 months back at the same venue as India slipped to 32 for four in a crazy passage of play on day one of the first Test against Sri Lanka. On that occasion, with Dale Steyn in the forefront, South Africa had winkled India out for just 76; this time, late inclusion Chanaka Welegedara threatened an encore until Rahul Dravid decided to take things into his own hands.

The Bangalore right-hander (177 n.o., 374m, 251b, 26x4, 1x6) couldn’t have picked a more opportune moment to unleash an innings of great assurance and tremendous fluency. All intent and focus, the former skipper linked up with the current captain to lead a wonderful fightback.

Dravid’s 27th Test hundred, during the course of which he became Test cricket’s fifth highest run-getter and touched the 11,000-run mark, was worth its weight in gold. No less timely was Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s (110, 200m, 159b, 10x4, 1x6) second Test ton as India rattled along to 385 for six on an entertaining, absorbing day that showcased the best Test cricket has to offer.

Rare form slump

This time last year, Dravid was going through the wars, a victim of his own lofty standards as he was struck down by a rare form slump. By his own admission, he desperately needed that 136 against England in Mohali in December to emphatically seal a trip to New Zealand. Since then, the 36-year-old has been in glorious touch; the big one he has been promising arrived on a sweltering day in trying conditions.

India’s early-innings collapse after opting to bat arose from a combination of intelligent bowling by the left-arm swing of Welegedara – summoned only because Thilan Thushara had a sore shoulder -- and Dammika Prasad, preferred to Nuwan Kulasekara for his extra pace and his ability to reverse the older ball, some ordinary shot selection and a sticky surface that called for circumspection.

After the openers had exited quickly, Tendulkar’s first knock in his 21st year in international cricket lasted just three minutes and three deliveries as he tried to drive Welegedara on the walk and was bowled through the gate, and a flat-footed VVS Laxman inside-edged Prasad on to his off-stump. India were staring down the barrel when Yuvraj Singh strode out purposefully to join Dravid. By stumps, it was Sri Lanka who were left wondering what might have been.

The Islanders haven’t always felt the full fury of a stinging Dravid willow. On Monday, they were left nonplussed by Dravid’s brilliance as runs cascaded with remarkable regularity, the gaps picked with clockwork precision and wondrous timing even as the surface settled down into a beauty.

Not often in recent memory has Dravid driven with such élan, or made room with such deliberateness as he did to crash Muttiah Muralitharan through the off-side. Neither Muralitharan, nor Rangana Herath – winning the nod ahead of Ajantha Mendis on recent form -- made any impression on Dravid, hardly recognisable as the crease-occupying, obdurate presence that has earned him the largely unflattering nickname of The Wall.

Yuvraj’s role

Dravid, though, wasn’t lone wolf McQuade. Yuvraj aided him in rescue act number one with an authoritative innings in a further display of his increasing maturity and confidence as a Test batsman, and Dhoni was his equal partner in a double-hundred sixth-wicket association that exposed the inadequacies of the Sri Lankan bowling on a flattish track.
Yuvraj played a wonderfully counter-attacking hand, crisply driving the pacers and playing Muralitharan with rare aplomb during a stand of 125 (129m, 173b). Upon his departure, Dhoni filled the breach admirably with his own unique brand of batsmanship, some way short of attractive but nothing if not effective.

Their positivity ensured that despite the early setbacks, India scored at a rapid clip. Dhoni fell just before close to the second new ball after playing his part in an attractive partnership of 224 (220m, 306b), but Dravid is still around. And looking ominous!

SCORE BOARD:

INDIA (I Innings):
Gambhir b Welegedara    1
(13m, 10b)
Sehwag lbw Welegedara    16
(31m, 11b, 3x4)
Dravid (batting)    177
(374m, 251b, 26x4, 1x6)
Tendulkar b Welegedara    4
(3m, 3b, 1x4)
Laxman b Prasad    0
(6m, 4b)
Yuvraj c Dilshan b Muralitharan    68
(129m, 93b, 13x4)
Dhoni c P J’wardene b Prasad    110
(200m, 159b, 10x4, 1x6)
Harbhajan (batting)    2
(15m, 11b)
Extras (B-2, LB-2, W-1, NB-2)    7
Total (for 6 wkts, 90 overs)    385
Fall of wickets: 1-14 (Gambhir), 2-27 (Sehwag), 3-31 (Tendulkar), 4-32 (Laxman), 5-157 (Yuvraj), 6-381 (Dhoni).
Bowling: Welegedara 17-3-75-3 (w-1), Prasad 18-1-90-2 (nb-1), Mathews 12-1-50-0, Muralitharan 23-3-90-1 (nb-1), Herath 19-1-73-0, Dilshan 1-0-3-0.

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