Ganguly and Tendulkar dominate
Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly helped themselves to half-centuries, as India reached a comfortable 295 for 3 at the end of the first day's play at Chittagong. After choosing to bat, India had a chance to put up a huge total and bat just once but some poor shot selection from set batsmen meant there was still work to be done before the bowlers did their thing. Both Rahul Dravid and Dinesh Karthik fell with centuries there for the taking, but Tendulkar and Ganguly did not squander good batting conditions, remaining unbeaten to take the game forward on the second day.
India made the tough decision of leaving out two quality batsmen in VVS Laxman and Yuvraj Singh, in order to play five bowlers, a strategy that might have been forced on them by the oppressive conditions of heat and humidity and the flat nature of the pitch. However, one of the top order should have capitalised on the opportunity handed to them and gone on to make a big score. With Munaf Patel suffering back spasms, and set to return home, India went into the Test with the two Singhs - RP and VRV - backing up Zaheer Khan in the pace department, while Ramesh Powar earned a Test debut, complementing Anil Kumble.
On top of playing five bowlers, India were also left with two wicketkeepers, with Karthik opening the batting in the absence of another specialist opener to partner Wasim Jaffer. Jaffer squandered his chance, shouldering arms in a somewhat predetermined fashion to the first ball of the Test, a delivery from Mashrafe Mortaza that pitched a shade outside the off, came in a touch, and proceeded to its target - the top of the off stump - unimpeded by either bat or pad. When he chose to bat Dravid would have been looking forward to having a hit, but certainly not as quickly as that.
But Dravid is no stranger to coming out to bat in the first over of an innings despite positioning himself in the middle-order. To India's relief, he got right behind the line of the ball from the word go. Timing and placement, the other two allies of any top batsman, were also present in ample measure as Dravid leaned into the line of deliveries outside the off and eased them through cover with authority. When the bowlers adjusted their line, afraid to give too much width, and delivered on the stumps, Dravid was able to make use of the slow nature of the pitch and play late, walking across and timing the ball wristily through midwicket.
Karthik didn't seem quite as assured as Dravid at the start, getting a couple of boundaries through the third-man region rather than in front of the stumps to begin with. But once the early nerves had calmed down, Karthik showed just what an attractive and fluent batsman he can be, picking the line and length of the ball early and hitting crisply through the line on both sides of the stumps. It came as no surprise that India raced to 50, off just 51 balls, in only the 9th over.
From there on, with even the introduction of spin in as early as the 11th over on the first day of a Test, the runs came at a fast clip, and Dravid motored to his 70th 50-plus score in Tests - only Sunil Gavaskar and Tendulkar have as many - and Karthik notched up the third half-century of his fledgling career. The 100-run partnership came up, and Dravid had done the rescue act once more - this was the fourth time he had been part of a 100-run stand after the first wicket had fallen with no score on the board; Bill Woodfull, the former Australian captain, managed the feat thrice.
The lunch break brought some respite to the Bangladeshis, and it should have been a chance for the batsmen to recharge their batteries, rehydrate, and walk out with their minds dead set on converting fifties into hundreds. Instead, soon after the break both Karthik and Dravid committed batting suicide. Karthik (56) attempted to pull a Mortaza delivery from well outside the off and ended up slicing the ball to Mohammad Ashraful at mid-off. Then Dravid (61) tried to chop a ball from Shahadat Hossain that bounced a touch extra, and ended up nicking to the keeper.
Tendulkar and Ganguly, both left out of the Indian team for the one-day leg of this tour, came together with the score on 132, and were understandably not able to score as freely as the well-set men they replaced. Both had to contend with some close shouts from the enthusiastic throats of the left-arm spinners who operated tirelessly, but without luck. Slowly but steadily the two old hands got set, and began to accumulate runs.
Tendulkar (80 not out) became India's third half-centurion of the day, and Ganguly (82 not out) made it one more. When bad light stopped play after 77 overs, India had 295, scored at the merry rate of 3.8 runs per over. It's a score India will take, quite gladly, if one of these two batsmen can go on and really make it count when the second day's play comes around.
Anand Vasu is associate editor of Cricinfo