Gambhir and Sehwag fail for India A
A distinct lack of patience cut short the start of what Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir must hope is a road to an India comeback. Gambhir was bogged down at the start of the innings, survived because what he had edged was a no-ball, and just went after the first sign of spin to hole out in the deep. Sehwag didn't stay long enough to get "bogged down", he didn't have to wait for spinners, and was out stumped trying to square-cut.
VA Jagadeesh and Abhishek Nayar, two different batsmen inhabiting a completely different state of mind, scored half-centuries to take India A to within 66 of avoiding the follow-on after West Indies A ended up with 406 and then reduced the hosts to 114 for 3.
For Jagadeesh and Nayar, Miguel Cummins and Fidel Edwards were quite possibly the quickest men they have faced. For them there is no end in sight, they are not looking at anything they want to particularly achieve through this series. They are on a journey into the unknown; their heads are clear. Which is why they played like you would on a slow, benign track with no mischief around.
Sehwag and Gambhir have seen much better and quicker attacks. They have played and succeeded in much more difficult conditions. Their minds are not free, though. Unlike the successful batsmen of the day, they are at a stage where they can contemplate the consequences of this match. They are running out of time. They won't get too many such chances before the next India Test squad is announced. They know this is a lucky break that has come their way because other batsmen are away on Champions League and Duleep Trophy duty. Yet, the bowling and the conditions are not challenging enough by themselves.
With so much riding on these innings, not only was yet another big crowd drawn in, you could somehow feel batting had become difficult for the 81 minutes they spent at the wicket. Gambhir's struggle was more drawn out: 44 balls for 11 runs scored over 70 minutes. Sehwag lasted only 11 minutes for seven runs.
Over the last two days, Gambhir has looked like a man with just batting on his mind. At almost every dead moment when West Indies A batted, he began shadow-practising. At the end of the first day, he went in for a long net. During the second day, which West Indies A began six down, he would check the batsmen's bats out during over breaks. When the innings ended, lunch was taken immediately, giving him 40 minutes to eat and get ready. Sehwag didn't get ready along with him because he is now batting at No. 4.
Gambhir's stay in the middle wouldn't last even twice that amount of time. The first ball he faced he tried to pat Edwards to leg. Then he left one alone. In the first over itself, though, he went to drive a widish delivery, away from the body. He kept it down, but couldn't beat cover. The taller and in-rhythm Cummins then hurried him up, hitting him high on the pad. There wasn't much from Cummins to hit away, but there wasn't enough that made him play either. You could see he wanted to feel the bat-ball connection as he went for another drive to a wide ball in the first spell. He kept this down too, but found the fielder again.
Comeback man Edwards was struggling for rhythm. He bowled nine no-balls in four overs, and was taken off. Before doing that, though, he drew a wide drive from Gambhir, and the edge and the catch at the wicket too. Except that it was one of his nine no-balls. Gambhir hadn't yet opened his account, and this was the 17th ball he was facing.
Veerasammy Permaul looked like relief for Gambhir, who got to face him only in the 13th over. The first ball was flat; he went back and cut it for two. The second was flighted, and he came down the wicket to loft it over mid-on. His score had more than doubled in these two balls: 11 off 52. He expected the next ball to be short, went back early, but had to defend because it wasn't short enough.
What followed could have been an ego thing, or the pressure of having been made to stay quiet, or a mix of both because a second-string attack had kept him quiet on a benign surface. He jumped out of the crease again, wasn't close to the pitch of the ball, and ended up dragging another loft towards deep midwicket. Edwards ran from mid-on to take the skier.
Sehwag had to wait for the captain Cheteshwar Pujara to have a 'Rahul Dravid moment': that when your wicket is cheered because of the identity of the No. 4 batsman. This is not a situation Sehwag is accustomed to. The agenda of the innings has already been set, it is not a clean slate, and he now has to react to it: to find the best way ahead from 104 for 2 in the 40th over. In his ear was an intimate crowd that was cheering his singles as if they were boundaries. And he had spin to face.
Sehwag's response was tentative. He began by defending, but in the first over itself he faced a huge lbw appeal and a near played-on. In the next he managed to tuck one away for three. In the following over he got one short and wide, which he cut away for four. Then he came down the track, but hit it back to the bowler. He defended the next ball, but you could sense another attack around the corner.
Sure enough it came the next ball. He pressed forward, but stopped because the ball was flat, short and wide. The back foot had subconsciously been dragged, but he went to cut it. He missed, and Chadwick Walton broke the stumps. Sehwag hadn't tried to push the back foot back, because he didn't have the time. He looked back to see its position, saw it was over the line, looked at umpire Suresh Shastri, who raised his finger.
Out came Nayar to join Jagadeesh, and out went the weight from the proceedings in the middle. It was, after all, a West Indies A attack bowling on a flat, slow surface.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo