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The Bulletin by Sriram Veera
November 24, 2009
It was a run orgy at the Green Park stadium in Kanpur. The first session witnessed a semblance of a battle, at least in the first hour, but the rest of the day was a one-way street, with India utterly dominant. Gautam Gambhir notched up his seventh hundred in nine Tests - and his fourth on the trot - Virender Sehwag completed a feisty century, Rahul Dravid was close to his ton and the end-of-day score was the highest in a day for India.
The situation was summed up by the sight of Rangana Herath bowling over the stumps and outside leg when Dravid had just walked out to the crease. It said everything about Sri Lanka's attitude and India's total domination. With the pitch expected to assist spin later in the Test, it could get even tougher for Sri Lanka over the next few days.
It wasn't just the runs, it was the manner in which they were compiled from the second hour on that was telling. The batsmen seemed to do as they wished: Gambhir punctuated his charges down the wicket with delicate late cuts, Sehwag went either inside-out or carved across the line, and Dravid, who hit the last ball of the day for a four, pierced the off-side field at will.
Inevitably, there were plenty of records to note: it was the first time India scored over 400 in a day, it was the highest opening partnership between Gambhir and Sehwag, and even Muralitharan, at one point, was leaking more than 6 runs per over.
The most telling statistic was the spinners' figures. Sri Lanka had managed to keep the scoring rate down with the new ball but things went pear-shaped for them after the spinners were introduced, with Sehwag and Gambhir looting 73 runs off nine overs before lunch and little changing after the break. They weren't allowed to settle in by the openers, who lashed out at them with a calculated assault that was breathtaking.
Gambhir went after Herath in his first over, hitting him for three fours: he whipped one through covers, cut past point and stepped out to loft to the straight boundary. When Herath returned later, Gambhir went repeatedly down the track to drive him to distraction. If Gambhir reserved the best of his aggression for Herath, Sehwag went after Mendis in the first session and took care of Muralitharan in the second. Mendis floated a full toss, offered a long-hop and slid one down the leg side in his first spell and Sehwag sent each one to the boundary. The attacking intent was best seen in the last over before lunch when Sehwag despatched an offbreak from Mendis high over long-on. That aggression continued after lunch with Sehwag collecting five boundaries against Muralitharan, including two fierce off drives, an inside-edge, and a tuck to the fine-leg boundary which brought up his hundred. He fell to Muralitharan, though, against the run of play, trying to play an inside-out drive to a but failing to clear cover.
What facilitated India's dominance was the clarity of thought in the approach by all the batsmen. Gambhir paced himself superbly, playing out the new ball, and then indulging himself against the spinners on a first-day track. There were a couple of occasions when he hung his bat out to the new ball and was seen immediately reprimanding himself. Gambhir had different approaches to the spinners: he stepped out often against Herath, used his crease well against Muralitharan, going either well back or stretching forward, and worked the angles against Mendis. There were several delightful late cuts that showcased his skill but his stand-out stroke was a gorgeous, almost nonchalant, straight drive off Muralitharan. However, he fell to the same bowler, beaten by the dip and scooping a difficult return catch, which Muralitharan accepted with a dive to his right.
Dravid was decisive in everything he did right from the start. When he defended he showed the full face of bat and deployed soft hands, and when he chose to attack, he either stretched well forward to drive or rocked right back to punch through the off side. There were many skilful punches on the back foot but his best shot was a gorgeous inside-out extra-cover drive off Muralitharan.
However, the most interesting of the three knocks was Sehwag's. Initially, It seemed he was waging a battle against himself. He chased the third ball he faced - a wide delivery from Welegedara - and edged it but was dropped when Prasanna Jayawardene dived across and distracted Mahela Jayawardene at first slip. Sehwag then tried to go hard at Angelo Mathews a couple of times and was beaten. Those near-misses could have forced Sehwag into a reckless response, but to his credit, he changed his approach, playing defensively with the full face of the bat and as close to the body as possible. That his first boundary came only off his 27th delivery said much about his mindset. There were many typical forceful hits but what stood out was a delicate late steer to third man off Welegedara, when he waited on the front foot before opening the bat face at the last minute to get it between gully and the slip cordon.
The presence of three spinners and just one frontline seamer was always going to pose problems for Sri Lanka after they lost the toss. India's emphatic opening act has set them up perfectly to put Sri Lanka under intense pressure over the next four days.
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