India ride on Sehwag and Dravid
Brian Lara signalled a thumbs-up when he heard the news that Trinidad & Tobago had held Sweden to a goalless draw in the football World Cup. When the first session of play was on, he might well have felt that West Indies could count themselves lucky if they could salvage a draw in this game as Virender Sehwag blazed away magnificently, laying to rest any fears there might have been about the pitch. His trail-blazing innings ensured India was ahead of the game at all times, irrespective of what happened at the other end, as India took the first day on points, ending on 361 for 4.
The pitch was a cause for concern early on - grass as even as a bad haircut on a bald man, possible moisture under the surface, a suggestion of softness. Sehwag seemed to listen to all this guff early on. The Indian 50 took as long as 10 overs. But it seemed like suddenly Sehwag realised that there was no Fidel Edwards gunning for his rib-cage, much less a Marshall-Garner-Holding-Roberts attack aiming to rip his heart out.
The stage was set for a beauty and Sehwag came to the party with an insatiable appetite for fun. He began by crunching the odd drive through cover-point and soon realised he could flick aerially through midwicket without risk. Soon Sehwag's momentum became India's as he picked off boundaries at ease.
In some ways, it was one over that gave Sehwag the belief that his approach would win the day. He had learnt some valuable lessons from the one-dayers, and some would suggest from Rudi Webster, the sports psychologist, too as he watched the ball carefully, played late, yet hit deliciously hard. Sehwag realised soon enough that this track was best suited to his brand of cricket, and that Dwayne Bravo - a player who had not held back the urge to have a word or seventeen during the ODIs - was the bowler best suited for taking on.
Wasim Jaffer's single gave Sehwag the chance to hit the cover off the ball for an on-the-rise six over long-off and reach 50. A cut to cover-point, a four through midwicket, a beastly bludgeon over midwicket, and suddenly Sehwag had taken 21 off a Bravo over.
What began as a schoolboy's enthusiasm for clobbering the rowdy bowler gave way to the conquest of something larger. Only briefly, as the lunch interval approached, did Sehwag comprehend that he was in line to become the first Indian, and only the fifth in history, to score a hundred before lunch on the first day of a Test. In fact, it was not till the last over that it became obvious he was even thinking on those lines.
Given the strike by Jaffer for the last ball before the break Sehwag charged and slammed, needing two to get to a remarkably pacy hundred. He scrambled one, braved the run out, missed the possible overthrow, and then disappointedly crashed bat on pad for failing to enter the record books. His 99 off 75 balls, however, had taken India to 140 for no loss at lunch.
When they came out to bat after lunch, with records no longer a distraction, all focus was on building the innings. Fittingly Sehwag coasted to his 12th Test hundred. But soon after the forgotten man, Jaffer, was dismissed. All along he had been the potatoes to Sehwag's meat, reaching 43 in a substantial partnership of 159 for the first wicket. Jaffer had done his job admirably, following up his 212 in the first Test with a rock-solid 43, and it was against the run of play that he followed a Pedro Collins delivery slanting away from him and edged to slip. VVS Laxman slashed at a similarly-angled Collins delivery just two runs later and suddenly the forecast for a run-fest with the occasional wicket seemed misplaced.
Rahul Dravid joined Sehwag and almost inconspicuously the pace of play changed. Suddenly, in the presence of his captain, Sehwag seemed to think less about the blistering innings and more about a substantial partnership. Although he still tucked in to any loose offering, Sehwag ensured that he did not sell his wicket cheaply as Dravid settled into his groove. With no fanfare the pair piled on the runs - 139 for the third wicket - before Sehwag was caught unawares by a short one from, who else, Collins, and bobbed a catch back. Sehwag's 180 had come off only 190 balls, with as many as 20 fours and three sixes.
Yuvraj Singh's latest chance to earn himself a permanent place in the Test side went abegging as he spent a patient 16 balls scoring two before he played all over a Collins delivery. In all this, almost unnoticed Dravid had spent 158 balls at the crease. He had not gone out of his way to hit the ball, he never tried to match Sehwag, but at the end of the day he was well set, on 95, with twelve boundaries, several of which he had fetched from well outside off and persuaded to the boundary with a surgeon's care. India ended the day on 361 for 4 from 85 overs. Fans of Sehwag will be disappointed, but fans of Indian cricket will appreciate how rarely the team manages such a score in the first innings of a Test, let alone the first day, outside the subcontinent.
Wasim Jaffer c Bravo b Collins 43 (159 for 1)
Poked at one that slanted away
VVS Laxman c Ramdin b Collins 0 (161 for 2)
Slashed at a ball that angled away from him
Virender Sehwag c & b Collins 180 (300 for 3)
Tried to force the ball to the leg side and only managed a leading edge
Yuvraj Singh b Collins 2 (306 for 4)
Played around an angling delivery that straightened
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo