There was talk of a greentop - of uneven bounce, lateral movement, moisture under the surface - when Rahul Dravid won the toss and chose to bat against the West Indies at the Beausejour Stadium in Gros Islet, St. Lucia. Virender Sehwag seemed to have overheard some of this, for he was unusually subdued early on. He played late and with soft hands, left a couple alone outside the off, and perhaps even blocked a few.
In five overs, though, he had seen enough. And as always, he trusted his judgment over all else, backed himself, and rained a torrent of blows on West Indies' hapless bowlers. He began by crunching the odd drive through cover-point and soon realised he could flick aerially through midwicket without risk. He had learnt some valuable lessons from the one-dayers, and as he would later admit, also from Rudi Webster, the sports psychologist. 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.
From there on it was smooth sailing all the way as the runs rained and Sehwag was within kissing distance of becoming the first Indian to score a century before lunch in a Test. He needed two off the last ball before the break, but only managed one, and was palpably disappointed - quite ironical given that he was batting on 99 off just 75 balls. With the thought of such records out of the way Sehwag settled in to play a big one, and West Indies' bowlers had no answer. He went past the 100, eased to 150, and was looking good for 200 and more when he fell on 180, bobbing a catch back to Pedro Collins off a short ball. Sehwag's 180 set India up for a rousing first day's 361 for 4, and an eventual 588 for 8 declared.
But he wasn't done just yet. After India's bowlers had taken the wind out of the West Indian top order, Sehwag showed up, grin plastered on his face, casual as anything and bowled canny offspin to clean up the tail, including a flying one-handed return catch. Really, there was nothing more India could ask of him.
"Now, I have reduced my shots, because in Test matches if you survive the new ball then the session between lunch and tea is comparatively easy ..."
"You see the way Sehwag was batting in the first session, you'd swear it was a one-day game. I think he truly assessed the pitch situation very quickly and played accordingly," Brian Lara, who struggled to stop Sehwag, said after the first day's play.
What you may not know
Sehwag has been written and spoken about so much that it's hard to find a nugget about him that has gotten past the eager Indian media. It's well known that he grew up in Najafgarh, a rustic town near Delhi dotted by flourmills. It's equally well known that he likes his mother's kheer more than any other dessert. So, unless Viru himself tells us something new, there's probably not much to dig for.
What the future holds
Already so firmly established in the Indian team that even an extended lean trot with the bat would not prompt the selectors to take the extreme step of dropping him, Sehwag is a force in world cricket. No less a striker of the ball than someone like Adam Gilchrist he has scored quickly - career strike-rates in Tests and ODIs of 75.01 and 96.76 attest to that - and batted long at venues ranging from Multan to Melbourne, to most recently St. Lucia. There's really no saying how far he can go in the future.