India high on Sehwag's 309
Close Pakistan 42 for 0 (Farhat 17*, Taufeeq 20*) trail India 675 for 5 dec (Sehwag 309, Tendulkar 194*) by 633
The second day of the Multan Test will be remembered as the one in which Virender Sehwag became the first Indian to hit a Test triple-century, and Sachin Tendulkar was left 6 short of an impeccable double-century. However, it should also be remembered as the day when John Wright's belief in putting the team ahead of the individual was clinically put into practice, as India declared on 675 for 5, giving themselves an hour of bowling against Pakistan's openers.
There is a jaunty air to Sehwag's batting that belies the thinking and effort that goes into crafting innings like the one he played. You do not score 309 against a Test attack, even on the flattest track, by clattering away at every ball as though it is the last you will face in your life. That he edges a delivery straight to slip, sees the catch dropped, and plays a blistering square cut off the very next one, as he did to go past VVS Laxman's 281, does not mean that presenting slip fielders with catch practice does not bother Sehwag. That he wafts at deliveries outside the off stump when he could just as easily wait for the loose delivery does not mean that he is reckless - it means that he genuinely believed that the delivery deserved to be put away. It may not always be obvious, but there is a method to Sehwag's madness.
When the day began with India on 356 for 2 and Sehwag on 228, the method of choice was waiting and watching. Tendulkar, on 60, led the way, showing his more impetuous partner the virtue of leaving the ball alone, carefully choosing highpercentage scoring areas and targeting specific bowlers. Tendulkar preferred the acres of space available to him just backward of square on the leg side. He filled that zone with ambled ones and jogged twos, slowly but surely pushing his score on.
Only a fool or a brave man would tell Sehwag that he should show the same degree of self-control as Tendulkar. After getting a significant chunk of the strike, and seeing off a probing spell of fast bowling from Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and Shabbir Ahmed, Sehwag opened his shoulders as the lunch break approached. The gloves were off and Sehwag's jackhammer slammed down on the ball with metronomic efficiency. If Tendulkar and Sehwag leaving the ball alone frustrated Shoaib, who bowled his heart out, this audacious attack drove him to despair.
Laxman's mark of 281 fell and records tumbled. At the stroke of 1pm Sehwag launched Saqlain Mushtaq into the stands over midwicket to become the first Indian to reach 300. When he edged Sami to Taufeeq Umar at first slip (509 for 3), Sehwag's blazing knock of 309 (375 balls, 531 minutes, 39 fours, 6 sixes) had come to an end. It brought to a close the third-wicket partnership of 336, which beat the previous best of 316 made in Chennai in the 1991-92 series against England. The eventual Indian total, 675 for 5 declared, was the highest ever against Pakistan, beating the 531 for 9 at Chennai in 1961.
But, it was not milestones that the Indian think tank had in mind when their batsmen piled on the runs. Every run beyond the 600-mark piled on additional pressure on Pakistan's batsmen. Mountains often seem harder to climb when you cannot see the top. In this light, it was hardly relevant that VVS Laxman (29) scratched around before being run out (565 for 3) or that Yuvraj Singh (59) scored his maiden Test half-century. To a lesser extent it was not even relevant that the innings was declared with Tendulkar within sniffing distance of a fourth double-century. That he made 194 of the most solid runs, spending eight hours and 13 minutes at the crease, was vital. Tendulkar is too mature a cricketer to wonder where his next double-century is going to come from.
Having put 675 runs on the board, India's bowling attack had something to work with. Whether you're batting on a flat deck, like this one, or a bowler's paradise, becomes less relevant, because the pressure comes from within. Imran Farhat and Taufeeq Umar, who had both dropped catches when India were batting, had a chance to make up by getting Pakistan's first innings off to steady start. They did just that, seeing off 16 overs in the fading light. Pakistan were 42 for no loss and still in the long shadows of India's 675, and Sehwag's 309.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo. He will be following the Indian team throughout this tour.