Sehwag's unbeaten 228 rocks Multan
India 356 for 2 (Sehwag 228*, Tendulkar 60*) v Pakistan
Virender Sehwag racked up the fastest double-century on the subcontinent to put India in control of the first Test at Multan. Sehwag's blistering knock - he brought up 150 off as many balls and later 200 off 222 - exposed the Pakistani bowling attack on a pitch capable of driving fast bowlers to cricket suicide. India galloped to 356 for 2, and the sight of Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar well set will do nothing to help the sagging morale of Pakistan's tired bowlers.
Rahul Dravid, standing in for Sourav Ganguly, who was ruled out with a back injury, did his team the huge favour of winning the toss. That done, Sehwag and Aakash Chopra took over. The two, fire and ice, blunted the three-pronged pace attack. Shoaib Akhtar steamed in and delivered one frustrated bouncer after another. Mohammad Sami found that shortening his run-up did nothing to improve his accuracy. Shabbir Ahmed tried and tried, but even his high-armed action did not threaten the batsmen as there wasn't a hint of movement in the air or off the pitch.
In the city of saints, Sehwag (228 not out, 271 balls, 30 fours, five sixes) carved a name for himself. In Melbourne, on Boxing Day last year, he had fallen five short of the 200 mark, attempting to heave Simon Katich over midwicket to reach the big milestone in a blaze of glory. Today, he spent ten balls on 199. Not a lot, but it seemed an eternity because of the frenetic pace he had set. When he finally worked a weary Abdul Razzaq through the on side to take the runs that pushed him past 200, a weight lifted off his shoulders. The ghost of Melbourne was laid to rest at Multan.
Although the day will be remembered for Sehwag's extraordinary strokes, it dawned as plain as any other. After a fortnight of running from city to city and watching bowlers being plundered mercilessly on flat decks in one-dayers, it was yawning empty stands, white clothes, a red ball, and Test cricket once again. For Sehwag, though, neither the clothes nor the ball matter. On a day like this, he could hit the cover off a golf ball, without a stitch of clothing on his body. When he reached 200, he had made 134 runs just in boundaries. No bowler was spared, no shot left unattempted.
In contrasting fashion, Chopra played his part. To Sehwag's strident lead, Chopra hummed the back-up vocals. He blocked, nudged, dabbed, pushed and then blocked as the bowlers pounded in, hoping, more than expecting, a wicket to fall. Chopra stonewalled for 121 balls, reaching 42, before he inside-edged Saqlain Mushtaq to the man under the helmet on the leg side (160 for 1). The wicket fell against the run of play, but only after Chopra had accomplished the task assigned to him. He had provided the solidity at the top of the order that allowed Sehwag to lash 111 runs in an opening stand of 160.
Dravid fell soon after, 94 runs short of a century, as one person cheekily put it. The pitch, and conditions, were tailormade for Dravid. Had he got his eye in, you would have needed a forklift to drag him away from the wicket. Yet, when he was just 6 he miscued Sami to Yasir Hameed at square leg (173 for 2).
That was the last time the thin crowd of Pakistan supporters rose to their feet to cheer one of their own. Sehwag was joined by Tendulkar, and they made sure that they did not undo the good work of the first session. Tendulkar ensured that no wickets fell, encouraged Sehwag to curb his natural instincts just enough to enjoy a prolonged stay at the crease, and stamped his class on every checked drive and flailing cut. There was an air of resignation to Pakistan's bowlers every time Tendulkar faced up. While Sehwag's savagery, executed with the smile and wink of an inebriated pirate, always appeared to give the bowlers a chance, Tendulkar's mastery only reminded them of the heat and the dust.
On a day when records tumbled, India assumed a vice-like grip on this match. When the second day begins, the screws will tighten, as Tendulkar resumes on 60 and Sehwag continues from 228. It does not rain in Multan, so Pakistan really have little to pray for in this city of saints. Inzamam-ul-Haq will bristle at the pitch his groundsman has served up, but that won't help at this stage. He might not forgive Sami and Saqlain for dropping Sehwag soon after he had reached fifty. That won't help either. All Pakistan can do is restrict the damage, and then inflict some of their own when their turn to bat comes around.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be following the Indian team throughout this Test series.