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Sehwag hammers Pakistan
Ashish Magotra |
March 28, 2004 13:45 IST
Last Updated: March 28, 2004 18:42 IST
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Virender Sehwag smashed the Pakistan attack to pulp to put India in a commanding position at close on Day 1 of the first Test at Multan.
The visitors reached 356 for the loss of two wickets as the Pakistan attack wilted in the stifling heat.
When stumps were drawn for the day, Sehwag was unbeaten on 228, including 30 fours and five massive sixes, along with Sachin Tendulkar, on 60.
The conditions were tough for the fielding team with temperatures as high as 35ºC at the start of the day.
India missed the services of their skipper, Sourav Ganguly, but at the toss they certainly were glad he wasn't around. The left-hander did not call right even once during the one-dayers. But his bad luck with the toss did not extend to acting skipper Rahul Dravid. India won the toss and elected to bat first on a pitch that promised to be a batting beauty. Grass had been rolled into the wicket, but only to bind it. It did not afford any bounce or pace to the fast bowlers.
The Indians went with their usual team for Test matches. Opener Akash Chopra, leg-spinner Anil Kumble and wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel were back in the side. Yuvraj Singh took the place of his skipper in the side while L Balaji and Irfan Pathan retained their places ahead of a fit again Ajit Agarkar.
Pakistan made one change, including off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq ahead of leg-spinner Danish Kaneria. The home team resisted the temptation of playing two spinners and persisted with a three-pronged pace attack consisting of Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Shabbir Ahmed.
Morning session (104 runs for no loss in 29 overs)
Openers are a different breed: so goes one of cricket's truisms. They are the men in the firing line, the ones who have to take the flak when the opposition fast bowlers are fresh and the ball is new.
But Sehwag belongs to a class all his own. His game plan does not change just because he is playing a Test. And it suited India perfectly. As the session unfolded, Pakistan learnt more about the phenomenon called Sehwag.
Inzamam was on the attack straight away. Three slips, two gullies and a short-leg greeted Chopra and Sehwag as they walked out to open the innings. The pitch was a batting beauty, but that made it all the more vital that India did not lose quick wickets.
A firm push to the leg-side for two set Chopra and India on their way.
After 10 overs, India had made 32 runs and were motoring along as Sehwag found the pitch and the attack to his liking. The Pakistani bowlers were generally too wide off the stumps and when they tried to compensate Sehwag cut them to the boundary with disdain.
Bowling to Sehwag is an art that has been mastered by none. He is a gambler who takes his risks and most teams realise that they just have to play along.
A packed off-side field was pierced with ease time and again as Sehwag settled into the rhythm of stroking a boundary almost every two overs through the session.
In the 18th over of the innings, the duo brought up their 50 partnership, with Sehwag on 41 and Chopra on 8. In fact, Chopra hit his first boundary only after the team total had already reached fifty.
Chopra is a very frustrating batsman to bowl too. Akhtar, charging in off his long run-up, was time and again greeted with a dead bat, and when the opportunity presented itself the batsmen were willing to take the quick single.
In the 19th over, spin was introduced on a pitch that offered no assistance of any kind to the fast bowlers. Pakistan made a mistake by going in for three fast bowlers and that might come back to haunt them later in the match.
Saqlain Mushtaq, who played his last Test at Multan in September last year, got turn from the first over. It wasn't the slow, dobbly kind of spin, but more of a sharpish variety.
But Sehwag was in a murderous mood by then and he takes some stopping at times like these. He made 50 off just 60 balls with nine fours and one six over third-man in an Indian total of 66.
He dominated the bowlers and never let them settle into any sort of rhythm. Sehwag and Chopra played almost the same number of deliveries, but at the end of the first session, Sehwag had scored 76 off just 92 balls while Chopra had scored 25 off 85 balls.
Pakistan will also rue a dropped chance that gave Sehwag a new lease of life. The Indian opener was on 68 when Sami, positioned at deep mid-wicket, failed to hold on to a slighty difficult chance off Saqlain.
Catches win matches and on a pitch like this, dropping Sehwag is akin to committing suicide.
The Indian openers duly brought up their fourth century partnership in only their 13th innings together. The pair averages over fifty in Test cricket and their consistency is something Indian fans have come to trust.
At lunch, India were 104 for no loss.
Post-Lunch (124 for two wickets after 28 overs)
The Pakistan fielders don't know a gift when they see one.
In the second over after lunch, Sehwag, on 77, was dropped by Mushtaq off Akhtar. That mistake was akin to committing hara-kiri and it gave Sehwag a second wind. He was immediately back concentrating on the next ball, determined to punish the Pakistanis for their mistake. A huge six off Saqlain in the next over announced his intentions to all those present; there was going to be no holding back.
After the break, Chopra seemed to open up too. The field normally dispersed for Sehwag, but for Chopra, Inzamam would position the close-in fielders without fail.
Sehwag averages over 65 in the first innings. He has also got all his fifties (6) and centuries (5) in the first innings of a Test match.
There are batsmen who get nervous in the nineties. But Sehwag is no ordinary one. He accelerates as he nears his century. The first ball of the 35th over was hit for four as Sehwag got to 99. But there was no hanging around. The very next ball was guided for a six over third-man. Sehwag's hundred came off only 107 balls.
The partnership with Chopra seemed to go on and on; 150 runs off 216 balls.
But just when it looked as if Pakistan had no chance of taking a wicket. Saqlain struck. A well-flighted delivery on middle and leg saw Chopra try to turn it to the leg side but an inside edge went straight to Imran Farhat at forward short leg. (160-1)
Once again Chopra failed to reach his half-century. On India's recent tour of Australia, he got off to starts in every Test but failed to make a half-century. But his job was done. He had seen off the new ball and put on good runs with Sehwag before he was dismissed for 42.
Rahul Dravid (6) was gone soon after. He got into the pull a little bit too quickly and hit the ball straight to Yasser Hameed at mid-wicket. Sami was the bowler.
As the first hour of play after lunch came to an end, India had scored 77 runs off 15 overs for the loss of two wickets. The runs had flowed at an astonishing pace all thanks to Sehwag's brilliance.
Sehwag's domination off Saqlain was truly outstanding. He slammed 57 runs off the 52 balls he faced to force Inzamam to take his best bowler out of the attack.
A backfoot straight driven boundary off Akhtar, the 20th of his innings, brought up his 150.
Akhtar, frustrated by the conditions and Sehwag's assault, was reduced to playing mind games. The world's fastest bowler applauded Sehwag after the latter ducked a bouncer. Not a sight one would see very often on the cricket field. The very next ball, Sehwag set off for a single and held his line. Shoaib too held his own after finishing his run-up and the two brushed each other mid-wicket, with Sehwag's bat grazing Akhtar. The cool-headed Inzamam did well to sort things out.
Sachin Tendulkar at the other end was reduced to a bystander. The fifty-run partnership between Sehwag and Tendulkar had the Mumbai batsman contributing only 12.
At tea, India were 228 for the loss of two wickets.
Post-Tea (33 overs, 128 runs for no loss)
So much has already been said in praise of Sehwag that one is lost for words. In sum, he was simply brilliant. The ball peppered the boundaries with such regularity that the Pakistani players were down and out well before the end of the day's play.
To compound matters, Sehwag does not know when to stop. The second over after tea from Razzaq was hammered for 15 runs. The much-vaunted Pakistani bowling attack was being torn apart by a batsman who knows no fear. Their line started to go awry, their heads dropped and shoulders drooped. The team was down in the dumps. Only Sehwag's wicket would have given them some respite. But, for a change, the dashing batsman stood firm.
Tendulkar, at the other end, was rock solid. With Sehwag going great guns at one end, all Tendulkar needed to do was stay at the wicket. If he stayed at the crease runs would come. And they did.
Sehwag was cruising to his double century, only two Indians -- Anshuman Gaekwad (201) and Sanjay Manjrekar (218) -- had reached the landmark against Pakistan. The confidence he had gained by performing in Australia has done him a world of good.
He reached 199 with a swept boundary off Saqlain to continue his dominance of the off-spinner. Then, for the first time in the day, he hesitated as he approached his double ton -- a landmark in his short career; one that doesn't come around very often in cricket history. It was his for the taking. The only question was could he keep his concentration going. Shots that would pierce the field with sublime ease now found the fielders. The pressure built up with every ball.
Having Tendulkar at the other end helped. Few can forget the way Tendulkar had shepherded the young Sehwag to a Test ton on debut in South Africa. Here, he did the same. Only this time it was to a double century.
For almost two overs, Sehwag was stuck on 199. But then it finally came.
The opener became the 15th Indian to score a Test double ton when he reached 200 off just 222 balls. It was the fifth fastest in cricket history in terms of balls and few who have watched will ever forget his graceful savagery.
He talent is so great that he toys with virtually any attack in world cricket. But there is a method to his madness. And as the day neared its end, we saw a different Sehwag. The rash strokes were done away with as he settled down to play out the day.
Pakistan claimed the new ball in the 83rd over but on a placid pitch it did no good. The bowlers continued to toil and the runs continued to pile up.
Sehwag wasn't finished yet and even as dusk approached, he consciously cut down the risks. Tendulkar was going strong at the other end. At the end of the day, Sehwag was 228 not out and Tendulkar unbeaten on 61.
At stumps, India were 356 for 2 after 90 overs. They could not have hoped for a better start to the series. The toss was vital and, to a very small extent, they must thank Dravid's luck for the position they are in.