October 9, 2002

Sehwag century dominates West Indians at Mumbai

India, it seems, just can not get enough of Virender Sehwag these days. After fairly heaping glory upon himself in the recent ICC Champions Trophy in Sri Lanka, the explosive opening batsman slammed 147 on the opening day of the Test series against the West Indies at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. When Sehwag clicks, India thrives, and they did today, reaching 278 for two at the end of the day.

The manner in which Sehwag goes after the bowling has its own value, apart from the sheer volume of runs he scores. The diminutive bat simply refuses to be bogged down under any conditions, and this makes him a menace for any opposition bowler. On the day, on a wicket that is being used for the first time, the West Indian bowlers hardly had answers to Sehwag's onslaught.

The assault began bright and early in the day. Only Mervyn Dillon, extracting good bounce from the wicket with the hard cherry early on, could keep the Indians quiet. His opening burst of six overs, yielding just seven runs, was definitely the lull before the storm.

Thankfully for the Indians, where Sehwag was explosive, Sanjay Bangar was defensive; where Sehwag was extravagant, Bangar was watchful. The pair complemented each other perfectly, each understanding exactly what was required of him.

For West Indian captain Carl Hooper, playing in his 100th Test, there were problems aplenty. When a line just outside the off-stump was bowled at Bangar, the ball was allowed to sail through to the wicket-keeper. The same deliveries to Sehwag were hit crisply to the fence. While Sehwag preferred to stay on the back foot till the very last moment, Bangar made a concerted effort to get his front foot as far down the wicket as possible.

Even as the West Indian bowlers scratched their scalps sore in trying to figure out a consistent line of attack, India played out two highly effective sessions. At lunch the hosts were 75 for no loss, and at tea 175 runs were on the scoreboard, with zilch in the wickets column.

When Sehwag brought up his century - with yet another gap-piercing drive - he became only the second Indian after Hemu Adhikari to score a century in his first Test against the West Indies. While on the subject of records, it is also worth noting that the 201 that Sehwag and Bangar put on beats the 153 that Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan managed during the 1978-79 tour.

But it would take either a man of extremely limited imagination or a hard-core statistics nut to take delight in those little facts on what was really a grand day of cricket. The first day of a Test series is always watched with intense interest, and Sehwag and Bangar gave fans and pundits alike something to savour.

Watching the game with interest from the sidelines, Shiv Sunder Das would have felt a pang of regret. Against this very West Indian side, Das, who is now carrying the drinks, had a miserable time in the Caribbean, subsequently being dropped from the side. Bangar took Das' place only because the situation demanded it, but he is now looking to cement his place in the side.

Bangar's common-sense approach gave Sehwag the liberty to go after the bowling. It was only because Bangar stonewalled at one end, wearing the bowlers down patiently, that Sehwag could collar the bowling, to the extent that 82 of his first 100 runs came in boundaries. Eventually the partnership was broken, but only as late as the 63rd over of the day. Even then, it was not a brilliant piece of bowling or a captain's innovative strategy that did the trick; slipping one down leg, Dillon had Bangar (55 runs, 187 balls, five fours, one six) flicking straight to Ramnaresh Sarwan at square leg. At 201, India had finally lost a wicket.

As is so often the case in Test cricket, when the long partnership was broken, the other wicket followed soon after. Just 12 runs after Bangar was dismissed, Dillon sent down another 'magic' ball, one that pitched on leg and went further down. A tired Sehwag swatted listlessly at the ball, only managing to edge it to Ridley Jacobs behind the stumps. Sehwag's career-best knock of 147 (206 balls, 24 fours, three sixes), his third ton in 10 Tests, ensured that India had a solid foundation to build on.

A twin cheer then rang around the Wankhede stadium. One appreciated the fine knock Sehwag had just played, while the other welcomed the arrival of Mumbai's favourite son, Sachin Tendulkar, to the crease. But there was little for Tendulkar to do in the twilight other than preserve his wicket. That he did in fine style, scoring five delicious boundaries in an unbeaten 35 that saw him cross 1,000 Test runs in this calendar yearthe same year that so many claimed was a slump for him. Rahul Dravid, at the wicket with Tendulkar, helped himself to 28, and India ended on a strong 278 for two.

Hooper used as many as nine bowlers on the day, with none really threatening to wrest the initiative back from the Indians. It was just that sort of day, and clearly Hooper will be hoping that tomorrow is a new day, in every sense of the word.