In August company
The only difference was the absence of a voluble crowd, especially on the Western Terrace. Otherwise, this could have been a facsimile of the opening day at Headingley in August 2002. The passage of time has caused a few roles to change though. Gautam Gambhir, Indian cricket's new Mr. Reliable led the way today, helped along by a man who showed fleeting signs of the player he once was. The partnership was uncannily similar, even in terms of numbers, and India will no doubt hope that the result too is repeated over the next four days.
Back then, Rahul Dravid was the main man, in the midst of a five-year run of excellence that would cement his reputation as one of the greats of the modern game. His accomplice was three months older, and is these days still seen doing his duty for Railways in the Ranji Trophy. No one would ever say that Sanjay Bapusaheb Bangar belongs in the highest echelons of the Indian game, but the part he played in one of its greatest Test victories can never be underestimated.
He opened that day and few expected him to put up more than token opposition against an attack of Matthew Hoggard, Andrew Caddick, Andrew Flintoff and Alex Tudor. He was on five when Virender Sehwag edged one to second slip, and Dravid walked out to yet another crisis situation.
By the time they were parted 67.3 overs later, India had added 170. In bowler-friendly conditions, Sourav Ganguly's gamble to bat first had reaped spectacular rewards. He and Sachin Tendulkar would flay a tiring attack in spectacular fashion the following evening, building on Dravid's monumental 148 as India built up an unassailable position.
Such was Dravid's mastery of those conditions that it was impossible to ever imagine him in a Bangar-like role, eking out runs through sheer strength of will. On another day, Daryl Harper might have given him out leg before to Stuart Broad almost as soon as he arrived at the crease, and given his recent luck, it would have surprised no one if one of the several deliveries that seamed past the bat took a thin outside edge.
They didn't though, and slowly, the runs started to come. A magnificent pull off James Anderson was followed by a stunning on-drive off Flintoff, while Monty Panesar, the only player out there who was probably even lower on confidence, was twice driven through the covers with impeccable timing.
A scorching clip through midwicket off Stuart Broad hinted at a more fluent afternoon, but the shutters were downed abruptly in the hour before tea.
Having reached 39 from 87 balls, it took him another 64 deliveries to bring up his 50. Gambhir too was more subdued than usual, though Broad bowling way wide of his off stump didn't exactly help the scoring rate. At Headingley, it took Dravid 220 balls to score his century. Here, Gambhir achieved the feat in an over less. Bangar's contribution to the partnership had been 68.
|Back then [in 2002], Rahul Dravid was the main man, in the midst of a five-year run of excellence that would cement his reputation as one of the greats of the modern game. His accomplice was Sanjay Bangar, and the part he played in one of its greatest Test victories can never be underestimated.|
At Mohali, by the time the partnership reached 170, Dravid had contributed 64. It wasn't pretty, but it was just as effective.
You certainly wouldn't assess Gambhir's innings the same way though. Some would point to those carves over gully as evidence of a reckless nature. Others will see them as the strokes of a man who knows he can do pretty much as he wants once he settles in. Already, there have been 16 partnerships over 50 with Sehwag [in just 34 innings] and all the signs are there that he could become a nuggety Justin Langer-like foil.
But even as he basked in the limelight of a second successive century at Mohali, Gambhir didn't forget his stolid ally. "We were 6 for 1 and the ball was doing a bit when he came out to bat," he said. "The way he handled the seam bowling was fantastic."
It eventually took him and Dravid four balls less to accumulate 170 runs, and the grey skies prevented an examination against the second new ball. India though had much to feel satisfied about at the end of day one. After the helter-skelter run chase inspired by Sehwag, this was old-fashioned Test cricket, with two committed batsmen staving off a disciplined attack.
The best sides don't only play at one pace, and under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, they have shown that they're not too proud to take small steps if bigger rewards await.