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Sehwag storm after the rain

By Deepti Patwardhan
Last updated on: March 09, 2005 18:37 IST
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Virender Sehwag sizzled under the fading skylight to put India on top on the second day for the first Test against Pakistan at Mohali, Chandigarh, on Tuesday.

Aided by wayward Pakistan pacers and fumbling fielders, the Indian opener cruised to an unbeaten 95 before bad light stopped play at the PCA stadium.

At stumps, India were 184 for 1 in 40 overs with Rahul Dravid, 39 not out, keeping Sehwag company.

Sehwag built a partnership of 113 runs with Gautam Gambhir to give India a flying start. The two Delhi openers smashed the Pakistan bowlers around the park to make sure that India kept a firm grip on the game.

Afternoon session (67 runs, 11 overs)

After the weather finally allowed play to get underway at 1420 IST, the hosts came out with the car already in fourth gear and raced to 67 without loss in 11 overs.

Though India was off to a streaky start, as Gautam Gambhir edged Mohammed Sami past the diving slip fielder for four off the first ball of the innings, that shot set the tone for the action-packed 50 minutes of play. The Indian batsmen, especially Sehwag, lived on the edge, but were able to come out of the battle unscathed.

The suggestions of a venomous damp wicket were swatted away by Sehwag as he rushed into an offside assault on Naveed-ul-Hasan Rana.

Despite the cloud cover and new ball, the Pakistan bowlers were not able to extract any movement off the pitch or in the air. Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul Haq persisted with three slips. Rana wasn't getting the ball to do anything, but Sami kept varying his line and length to keep the Indian batsmen under check.

But the attack continued at the other end and Sehwag had raced away to 15 off 11 balls. He was now itching for the strike, and scampered for singles for Gambhir.

In the fifth over, with the team score on 22, Sami had the ball rise sharply and clip the right-hander's bat. The ball flew to third slip, and just when Taufeeq Umar looked like holding on, it bounced out, to an audible relief for the Indian supporters.

The dropped chance did not soften Sehwag a bit. The Delhi batsman, who believes in playing ball by ball, punched a drive through cover off the very next ball that had Sami glaring at the slips. The next over proved as forgettable for Rana as Sehwag picked him for two boundaries. With the Pakistani bowlers bowling fuller, Sehwag rocked back on the back foot, giving himself enough room to swing the bat.

Rana, returning from a successful ODI series in Australia, tried to bang in the ball short to Sehwag, but the batsman, on one occasion, moved back and cut the wideish delivery straight over point and into the stands.

Runs couldn't be stopped on the other end either. Gambhir, though not equal to his Delhi teammate, with his organized game, kept the scoreboard ticking. And as the Sehwag show was wearing off, he went a gear up. He carved a couple of shots elegantly on the on-side. In the last over before tea, he stuck into a flighted delivery from Danish Kaneria and lofted it over mid-on. The ball bounced in a few inches from the boundary before rolling into it.

Inzamam had brought in a double change, Abdul Razzaq replacing Rana in the tenth over while leg-spinner Kaneria bowled the last over before tea.

At tea, Gambhir was unbeaten on 22 and Sehwag on 41.

Post-Tea session (117 runs, 1 wicket, 29 overs)

The twenty minutes that went by under a darkening sky during the tea break did not dull the India camp one bit. Sehwag and Gambhir's blades continued to flash. The first over after tea, bowled by Mohammed Sami, yielded 13 runs, with the batsmen finding the boundary thrice.

If the boundaries were powering India's progress, the batsmen also impressed with their running between the wickets. Both players were up against a packed off-side, and though the Pakistanis bowled to the field most of the time, Gambhir and Sehwag were able to eke out the quick singles.

The right-hander, resuming on 41, tapped the ball to point for a single to bring up his fifty in an anti-climax to his carefree knock. But the fireworks were not finished yet.

India reached 100 in the 16th over through Gambhir. It was the second time the partnership had crossed the three-figure mark; their best being a 218-run stand against South Africa in Kanpur last year.

The left-hander started taking charge as Sehwag looked like cooling off for a while. He hit four boundaries in the first five overs after tea, a neat cover-drive exemplifying his talent. The 23-year-old refused to be overshadowed by Sehwag's massive presence at the wicket.

Pakistan, though, could not push Sehwag's presence aside. The right-hander burst out of the brief lull on completing his fifty with a three-fours streak in the 17th over. He got up on his toes and slapped the ball through point to the boundary, then hit a copy-book drive past the diving mid-off fielder for four and capped the over with a touch shot down the wicket that whizzed for four.

The fast bowlers were getting too predictable for the Indians, who hit through the line comfortably. But Pakistan, like India, had one look at the greenish Mohali wicket and promptly opted for thee fast bowlers. Danish Kaneria, the leg-spinner, was the only spinner in the side and the visiting team could well miss the useful leg breaks of Shahid Afridi later in the match.

Kaneria, only in his second over, justified the faith shown in him by the team think-tank as he got the wicket of Gambhir. The batsman, who had scooped a Kaneria delivery right before tea, tried to repeat the shot. But the bowler had cut out the flight out and Gambhir hit the ball flat and straight into Naveed-ul-Hasan's hands at mid-on.

The left-hander had once again got off to a good start, and looked solid on 41 till the error in judgment. (113-1)

But his dismissal did not put the brakes on India's scoring rate, as Pakistan would have expected.

The first ball that Rahul Dravid faced was struck to the point boundary on the back foot. Dravid got in the usual sighters, and the few bouncers that the Pakistanis tried proved futile as the batsman sat under it comfortably.

India brought up its third 50 in 77 balls, which turned out to be the slowest of the innings as the first two had come at a ridiculous speed for Test cricket.

Razzaq came up with a few short balls into the batsmen's body, but it was Kaneria who kept the Indians under check. The Pakistani leggie, more front on than his fancied Indian and Australian counterparts, hopped in with some tricks up his sleeve. He kept shifting the line and pace. The pitch also afforded good bounce, which was exaggerated by the classical loop of his deliveries. When he wished, the bowler was also able to turn the ball square on the second-day Mohali pitch.

After a keen tussle with Dravid that resulted in a maiden over, Kaneria was able to bait Sehwag in his next attempt.

The Indian batsman failed to pick up Kaneria's wrong `un in the over, and, in an attempt to compensate for the turn, played drown the wrong line on the next ball. Sehwag, on 82, attempted an expansive cover drive, but the ball took the outside edge and was dipping to first slip. Pakistan's fielding, that had let them down throughout the day, failed again, as vice-captain Younis Khan grassed the ball.

While Kaneria kept one end up, Rana's return signaled another flourish for India. Sehwag frayed him on the off-side again, the batsman scoring 57 of his 95 runs in the `V' between third-man and cover. He took advantage of an inconsistent length by Rana. His scoring rate fell behind the run-a-ball for the first 70 runs, but the batsman was always in command of the game.

The Indian opener, who has eight centuries to his name, was only five runs short of his ninth when the play was called off due to bad light. Dravid was unbeaten on 39, off 80 balls, as India finished the second day on 184 for 1 in 40 overs.

The floodlights were on at Mohali right through the last session, but the natural light was very poor and spotting the red ball becomes difficult against a largely dark background.

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Deepti Patwardhan

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