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Sehwag floors Aussies on Boxing Day

Ashish Magotra | December 26, 2003 08:59 IST
Last Updated: December 26, 2003 14:39 IST

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A brilliant 195 by Virender Sehwag had Australia reeling as India piled 329 for the loss of four wickets on the first day of the third Test in Melbourne on Friday.

At close of play, Sourav Ganguly, 20, and V V S Laxman, 6, were at the crease.

Sehwag displayed brilliant touch as he raced away to his fifth Test century and smashed the Aussie attack to all parts of the ground. The 70,000-strong MCG crowd could only applaud the genius of the cricketer who took all that the Aussies could throw at him with aplomb.

A few early wickets on day 2 could see the game turn either way.

Morning session

Captain Sourav Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat on a pitch that is expected to be at its best for batting on day 2.

The Indians decided to bring back Zaheer Khan and drop Irfan Pathan, while the Aussies dropped Andrew Bichel and drafted Nathan Bracken into the squad. Brett Lee replaced the injured Jason Gillespie.

The curator of the Melbourne pitch indicated that there was some moisture in the track and, while there would be bounce, it would be slow. He also said the ball would stop on the batsmen off the pitch and stroke-play would not be easy in the first hour. He was right.

The question that most people were asking before the Test was whether Australia has the firepower to bowl out India quickly. And, as Lee ran in to deliver the first ball of the match, captain Steve Waugh was hoping the fast bowler would answer some of those questions.

The Indians were hoping the openers would continue their run of good partnerships (they raked up two half-century partnerships in the second Test at Adelaide).

An inside edge off Chopra's bat started off proceedings and for the next hour there were precious few runs.

In the fifth over, with Sehwag on 3 and Chopra on 4, the Aussies missed the simplest of chances to run-out one of them.

Sehwag drove a ball from Lee into the covers and quickly started off, but he kept his eyes on the ball and not on his partner. The result: a massive mix-up. Chopra came back for the second run, but Sehwag didn't budge. Both of them ended up at the bowler's end and only a very poor piece of thinking by Lee prevented a breakthrough.

Waugh's throw from cover would have got Chopra (running to the bowler's end) out too, but Lee opted to try and get the more dangerous Sehwag out. He threw the ball with great pace and an awkward bounce made it a very difficult take for wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist.

The Australians bowled short and quick at the Indians. In hindsight, maybe, too short in the first hour, which saw the Indians rake up 24 runs off 13 overs.

The openers were hit thrice on the helmet (Sehwag twice).

There was a short break in the middle after Chopra looked really shaken after being hit on the helmet by Bracken. The Delhi opener was seen taking deep breaths as he tried to recover his composure. But he persisted and survived and by the end of the session looked to have recovered very well indeed.

The runs were coming at a slow pace but the premium was on wickets. The Aussies knew that and so did the Indians. At the 21-over mark, the Indians were 42 for no loss.

The 22nd over saw the momentum shift. Interestingly, it coincided with the introduction of leg-spinner Stuart MacGill into the attack. A six off the second ball of his opening spell by Sehwag was undoubtedly the shot of the morning. The ball pitched slightly wide of the off-stump, giving Sehwag full freedom to swing his bat. It was smashed over mid-off for a massive six.

The next few overs saw the Indians move up a gear. A four almost every over showed that the openers had come to terms with the pitch.

The score was progressing quickly when Sehwag lost concentration.

The right-hander tried to slog MacGill through mid-wicket, missed and Gilchrist quickly broke the stumps. The replays proved to be inconclusive and the benefit of doubt was given to the batsman. It was a very marginal decision but Sehwag survived and the Indian dressing room heaved a sigh of relief.

At this point, there were just nine minutes to go for lunch and there was no need to play such a risky shot. As Sehwag showed in the same over, there are better ways to hit boundaries. Two perfectly struck straight drives in the same over added to the Aussies' frustration.

The last over before lunch from Lee was hammered for 18 runs as the openers returned to the pavilion with the score on 89.

Post-lunch session

Quick singles, sparkling drives, huge hits on both sides of the wicket, lots of runs and one wicket -- that just about sums up the post-lunch session.

Chopra continued to play sensibly. Sehwag continued to play strokes all around the wicket. The runs kept coming and the Aussies began to get frustrated.

They have not looked a champion side thus far, and mistakes in the field have only compounded their misery.

One of those gave Sehwag a life. On 66, he blasted a delivery from Bracken straight down the throat of Simon Katich at gully. The pace at which the delivery reached Katich surprised him and he dropped the catch.

Another example of things not going Australia's way was in the 40th over.

The openers continued to pile on the runs, but when Sehwag drove Brad Williams straight down the pitch, the bowler got his fingers to the ball before it crashed into the stumps. Chopra had backed up too far and it seemed as if he hadn't got in. Lots of replays followed for the third umpire but they all proved inconclusive.

At the drinks break, India were 141 for no loss and Waugh must have been wondering whether he should have retired before this series. Without the trusty duo of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, the Australian captain has seemed short of ideas.

The break seemed to disturb Chopra's concentration and he was dismissed in the first over after drinks.

The Delhi lad was dismissed for 47 trying to sweep MacGill. The ball turned, hit his gloves, and looped up for an easy catch to Katich at short leg. The partnership for the first wicket was 141 and had put the Indians in charge. The Aussie shoulders were starting to droop. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Ganguly and V V S Laxman awaited their chance to make a meal of this Aussie attack.

Dravid was in next and he settled down almost immediately. He is in great form and it showed. His footwork was precise and with Sehwag going great guns at the other end, he just needed to keep his wicket intact.

Sehwag just tore into the Australian attack. His animal instinct was evident: kill or be killed. Shots that bordered on the genius were the benchmark of his innings. He was particularly severe on MacGill, who conceded 59 runs in ten overs.

There was little the Aussies could do but watch and applaud as Sehwag sped away to his fifth hundred in his 19th Test. All his five centuries have come against different countries. His ton came off only 144 balls.

One would have expected him to take fresh guard and prepare for a long hundred. But Sehwag was in his element. He proceeded to bludgeon the Aussies. No one was spared; reputations meant nothing to the Indian opener.

The 200 of the innings came an over before tea, and the mayhem was not over by any means. Waugh decided to bowl the last over before the break and was slammed for a straight six by Sehwag.

Post Tea session

The Aussies fought back in the final session of the day with three wickets, but, on the whole, it was an even battle.

Sehwag continued the carnage of the earlier sessions and Dravid kept his cool as runs came at a good pace. The hundred-run partnership between the two came off just 134 balls.

Sehwag hardly set a foot wrong in the first hour. Going for his shots with a disdain that reeked of arrogance, the opener reached his 150 off just 200 balls.

Meanwhile, Waugh continued to bowl from one end to no apparent effect. The new ball appeared his only hope at that point. The only plan he could come up with was to set a 7-2 off-on field with the hope that the runs would dry up and Sehwag would get himself out.

Around the 70th over the ball started to reverse swing, but the opener continued to smash his way through. He may not have excellent footwork but is superbly balanced while playing his strokes. His hand-eye co-ordination is among the best in the game.

At the other end Dravid looked classy. He moved into the forties with consummate ease. His superb placements and timing showed the touch was imperious. But just then disaster, in the name of Waugh, struck.

The ball was clearly drifting to the leg and Dravid over-balanced while trying to play it through mid-wicket and failed to keep it down. The ball sped straight to Damien Martyn. His frustration at the fall was evident. (278 - 2)

Sachin Tendulkar's arrival was greeted by Lee's reintroduction back into the attack. The ploy worked.

The ball, a gentle loosener by Lee's standards, was going way down the leg-side, when Tendulkar's eagerness to get off the mark proved his downfall. A very faint edge off the face of the bat resulted and Gilchrist took a good catch behind the wicket. The master blaster was gone for a first-ball duck.

But that did not faze Sehwag. A defensive shot was indeed an oddity in his innings. He continued on his merry way, invoking the spirit of Christmas to the full and giving the Aussies a hiding.

Katich eventually claimed his priceless scalp. The first ball of the over saw Sehwag trying to lift the ball over the wicket-keeper by playing a shot made famous by Zimbabwean Douglas Marilklier and now known as 'the Marillier shot'; the second ball, a full toss was slammed for six over mid-wicket; the third, another full-toss was hit straight to a wide long-on, where Bracken made no mistake.

Sehwag made 195 stroke-filled runs, including 25 fours and 5 sixes. (316/4)

Another wicket at this stage and the Aussies could well have dismissed India below 400. But Ganguly and Laxman stood firm, though it was not an easy stay.

Early in his innings, Ganguly was shaken up by a Lee bouncer. The fast bowler followed it up by another short delivery, directed at the Indian skipper's ribs. The resultant leading edge went straight to Lee, who dropped the simplest of caught and bowled chances.

The momentum would have turned completely in Australia's favour but the Indian captain was granted a repreive.

At close of play, India were 329 for the loss of 4 wickets, with Ganguly on 20 and Laxman on 6.

The highest total ever recorded in a single day's play at Melbourne is 335, by South Africa in 1910-11.

Cricket  is a game of uncertainties but one thing is certain: this game is not over by a long shot.

Session Verdict:

Day 1 - December 26, 2003
SessionMatch positionVerdict
MorningIndia: 89/0 (Akash Chopra, 31*, Virender Sehwag 51*, 27 overs)AusInd
Post-lunchIndia: 130/1 (Sehwag 137*, Rahul Dravid 23*, 30 overs)01
Post-teaIndia: 110/3  (Ganguly 20*, Laxman 6*, 33 overs)0.50.5
TotalIndia: 329/4 in 90 overs0.52.5

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