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October 3, 2003
When Sadagopan Ramesh square-drove Jacob Oram to the fence early on the second day, it was a shot that released two years of frustration. Despite averaging nearly 38 from 19 Test matches, he was banished to the cricketing wilderness by a selection committee that believed he did not have the technique or the stomach to face quality fast bowling. At Rajkot, on a wicket that had decent carry and bounce, he showed that he had the ability to make runs. At the end of the day, the five wise men that make up the selection panel must swallow all talk and recognise the fact that there is nothing more important than the ability to put runs on the board.
In a near chanceless display - he was dropped by Scott Styris off Daniel Vettori when on 96 - Ramesh proved that the he had in it in him to score runs when it mattered the most. Over the last two Ranji seasons, he has made just one first-class century, against Kerala, but he is the first one to admit that big games do the trick for him. "Probably the motivation factor is much higher in a big game. The stakes are higher in a big game and I have never thought of the consequences," he said. 'What if I fail?' - that question never came into my mind. Maybe that clicks for me in the big games."
There was more than one occasion during the day when Ramesh played and missed. With Daryl Tuffey bowling well from one end, Ramesh flirted with danger, proffering half-hearted strokes at some deliveries that were best left alone. But any batsman worth his salt will tell you that this is bound to happen when you spend four-and-a-half hours at the crease to make 110 from 206 balls. But then, people who have watched Ramesh over a period of time will tell you his biggest strength is his ability to put the odd setback behind him. He does not mull over nicks that could have been. He merely gets on with what he knows best - driving the ball when it is pitched up. On the day, 19 boundaries came off his blade, and no one but the cruellest man would suggest that he got more than his fair share of luck.
Showing the full face of his Woodworm Wand he drove magnificently down the ground, both past mid-off and mid-on. Occasionally, when the bowling flagged, he unveiled the cut, a shot he had shelved sometime ago because the percentages did not work out. The hook shot, a rarity in modern Indian batting, was also on display, and reached the fence unerringly, even if it kept the outfielders interested every now and then.
More than any of these strokes, though, it was the runs on the board that brought a wide grin to Ramesh's face. "I would not say I am relieved because I could have added another 40 or 50 runs. It's just that I have been waiting for this opportunity for so long. I am happy that I was able to grab the opportunity." On Saturday, the selectors pick the squad to play the first Test against New Zealand at Ahmedabad, and they were present in full strength to watch the innings. In that sense, the timing of this innings could not have been better. But Ramesh is not one to hang onto these sorts of thread. He refused to be drawn out when asked if he had done enough to make it back to the Test team. "I will come to the ground tomorrow," he said, almost as though nothing had happened. "I take the day as it comes. If I see my name in the reckoning or in the team, I will be very happy about it but otherwise I am not the sort to dream about all these things."
Dream or not, Ramesh clarified several points that were raised against him. At several moments in the day, he did not get much of the strike or was bogged down by spells of good bowling. But he did not throw it away. On 30, 44 and then finally 84, he was stuck, unable to get the runs flowing. He took half an hour to get to his 85th run. And then, of course, the three-figure mark loomed. "Every batsman becomes conscious of the three-figure mark once he crosses 80," conceded Ramesh. "I know there is a big difference between 99 and 100. I have gone through that. So I wanted to get to the three-figure mark today."
Finally, despite putting a strong hundred on the board, there was carping about the manner in which he was dismissed - and replays showed clearly that the ball missed bat and went off shoulder - and his footwork. Laid-back as ever, Ramesh pooh-poohed such doubts. "I have got to the three-figure mark, so don't start that talk again," he said, breaking out in a wide grin. "I have tightened up my game a bit more. But it's for the people to judge, not for me to talk about. After all, they are only watching me, I can't watch myself bat."
Jacob Oram, another left-hander to make a century on the day, was full of praise for the manner in which the India A openers handled the New Zealand bowling. "I thought they played very well. They left the ball well but at the same time, they put away the bad ball, especially Ramesh. He was very good on the drive and played very well on a wicket that was still helping us with the new ball." Very true, Jacob, very true. You might just be seeing a bit more of this bloke in the days to come.