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It's 'The Wall' again!

Faisal Shariff | October 08, 2003 10:04 IST
Last Updated: October 08, 2003 17:57 IST


Rahul Dravid ended a lean run at Ahmedabad, scoring a chanceless hundred that turned the first Test against New Zealand India's way.

The hosts ended the first day on 249 for 3, looking good for a huge first innings total.

Rahul DravidAveraging 27 in six innings at the Sardar Patel stadium in Motera before today's innings, Dravid brought up his 15th Test ton after the cheap dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar (8), who struggled during his brief 38-ball stay at the wicket.

VVS Laxman, returning to international cricket after ten months, scored a welcome half-century that was replete with fluent stroke-play and flair.

Laxman and Dravid added 100 runs in the last session and their 115-run partnership for the third wicket ensured that the hosts would end the day well-placed.

If there ever was a day that Kiwi skipper Stephen Fleming missed fast bowler Shane Bond, it was today. And, if picking two spinners against India was a mistake, not using his second spinner until the 72nd over was simply inexplainable.

If New Zealand fail to pick early wickets in the morning session tomorrow (Thursday), this Test is as good as over for them, and so is the dream of a series victory.

Morning session

India went to lunch at 76 for 1, with Rahul Dravid batting on 22 and debutant Akash Chopra looking solid with 25 runs.

The only wicket to fall in the morning was that of Virender Sehwag, who scored a breezy 32-ball 29. He was trapped in front by Darryl Tuffey. Umpire David Shepherd raised the finger despite the ball appearing to go down leg.

The Kiwis were ready for a dustbowl at the Sardar Patel stadium when they landed for the first Test in Ahmedabad. But what curator Nadeem Memon dished out was a hard wicket, with a decent sheen of grass on it.

Kiwi skipper Fleming described the strip as a "good dry wicket" though the fear lurks that it will start turning soon enough for the spinners to come into play.

Like India, Fleming opted for two spinners -- Daniel Vettori and Paul Wiseman -- instead of including a third pace bowler [Ian Butler] in the playing eleven. The Kiwi spinners bowled 83 overs between them the last time they played in Ahmedabad, with Vettori taking four wickets.

Fleming will do well to look at the South African team that defeated India at home in 2000 to realise that the Protean mindset was to unsettle the Indians with aggressive pace bowling.

Fleming lost the toss and Sourav Ganguly chose to bat first on a fresh wicket and a new opening pair of Sehwag and Chopra.

Tuffey, who has a bowling average of 19 at home and 59 away, failed to snare a wicket in his first over, a feat he has achieved 18 times in his career.

All hopes of a sporting wicket were wiped off when a delivery from Tuffey, in his first over, kept low.

Sehwag went for his shots from the onset, forcing Fleming to set a rather unorthodox field. But three gullies, a third man and a lone slip failed to curb the dashing batsman's flourish.

In fact, it didn't seem like the first morning of a Test with Sehwag running amok. In the third over of the day, he swiped at Tuffey and saw the ball fly past the outstretched hands of Craig McMillan at third man for six.

At the other end debutant Chopra must have forced even coach John Wright to smile. Solid defence, moving his feet well, getting into position for the shot early and leaving the deliveries early on in the innings, he seemed at ease playing international cricket.

Taking the confidence of the 169 runs he scored against the Kiwis in the two side games to the match, Chopra proved his detractors wrong about his vulnerability to the short ball.

Fleming placed a leg gully, aware of Chopra's habit of flicking short deliveries but failed to get the Delhi opener, who ensured he kept the ball down at all times.

Sehwag's display at the other end did not bother Chopra at all. He stuck to his job of seeing the new ball off. The fact that the ball wasn't swinging around too much probably helped.

A dubious decision saw Sehwag trapped in front by Tuffey. The ball was clearly going down leg.

India had lost a wicket in the first hour of play and Sehwag's 29 off 32 balls saw the team placed at 35-1.

Rahul Dravid, who averages 27 in six innings at this ground, walked out into the middle and looked comfortable against the Kiwi attack. Chopra played left-arm spinner Vettori very late and with soft hands while Dravid danced down the wicket to send him to the fence.

A string of copybook cover drives from Dravid and a sweetly timed straight drive from Chopra exposed the toothless bowling attack of the Kiwis.

Post-lunch session:

A studied 58 from Rahul Dravid saw India take tea at 149-3. India lost the prize wicket of Sachin Tendulkar for 8 and debutant opener Akash Chopra failed to complete his maiden half-century, offering a return catch to Daniel Vettori on 42.

A mere 73 runs were scored off 30 overs in the post-lunch session at 2.43 runs per over for the loss of these two wickets.

That the surface was benign was evident from the morning session. Nothing swung, not even the balance of the game.

Chopra, keen to get a significant score in his maiden Test outing, cut Vettori to the fence and began scoring freely.

Tuffey, back in the attack, induced an edge from the Delhi opener, but wicket-keeper Robbie Hart grassed the regulation catch.

The Indian batsmen gave too much respect to a bowling attack that promised more than it delivered. A run rate of fewer than three an over on a docile pitch against seamers gave a fair account neither of the Indian batting talent nor of the timidity of the Kiwi attack.

Chopra, growing in confidence, danced down the wicket to Vettori and cracked a four past mid-on. But two balls later, Vettori pulled the length back a bit and Chopra, trying to repeat the shot, hit the ball straight back to the bespectacled spinner.

Though Chopra was dismissed for 42, his 116 ball essay paved the way for the middle-order batsmen to set a huge target.

Dravid got his first half-century at Motera off 111 deliveries soon after Chopra's dismissal. Scoring 30 of his runs through the offside, Dravid negated the defensive field set by Fleming.

Sachin Tendulkar began watchfully, but was clearly troubled by Vettori's ploy of bowling well outside the leg stump.

Scott Styris deceived Tendulkar with a slower delivery, which he reached out for and offered a sharp catch to Astle at first slip.

Tendulkar walked back with just eight runs off 38 deliveries, missing an easy opportunity to make a tall score (134-3).

In a surprise move, V V S Laxman came up the order ahead of skipper Ganguly. The decision, however, made sense as Ganguly had promoted him during the Irani Trophy game against Mumbai. Laxman's 99, with Dravid's century, had paved the way for an improbable win and it was only fair that Ganguly continued with that batting order.

Laxman and Dravid took India to tea with the score reading 149-3.

Post-tea session:

Laxman took over the proceedings after tea, playing with absolute ease. Despite playing an international game after almost 10 months he seemed fluent.

Tuffey tested him a lot with the short-pitched stuff and Laxman kept getting out of the way, refusing to employ the hook or the pull. As the day wore on, and the pitch slept, the balls sat up to be hit and Laxman took full toll.

He struck Oram through covers for four and then punished Tuffey when he strayed down leg side for another boundary.

Dravid was his usual self while approaching another Test ton. At times he seemed to be doing nothing fancy, yet added runs to the total.

In what will remain a mystery, Fleming introduced Paul Wiseman, the other spinner, into the attack in the 72nd over of the game. The Kiwi skipper had earlier stated that most of the Kiwi plans involved playing the game above the waist. The passive nature of the wicket though vetoed him from doing that. From thereon it was a matter of frustrating the batters for runs and forcing them to commit the mistake.

Vettori bowled unchanged and unchanging from one end --- not turning the ball enough -- with the Ahmedabad heat taking its toll on him.

The Kiwis took the new ball as soon as it was available but failed to get any breakthrough.

Laxman reached his half-century in just over two hours, with the help of six fours. Dravid reached his Test century soon after with a cracking boundary off the back foot. His 15th Test ton had 12 fours and was compiled in 215 deliveries.

After the cheap dismissal of Tendulkar, the Laxman-Dravid partnership retrieved the day for India, who finished on a healthy 249 for 3.

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