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Sehwag is the `Sultan of Multan'

By S. Dinakar

India 675 for 5 decl.

Pakistan 42 for no loss

MULTAN, MARCH 29. The ball was sent soaring over the mid-wicket ropes. Saqlain Mushtaq, hands on his hips, watched the flight of the sphere rather helplessly. A sparse gathering roared in appreciation, and Virender Sehwag lifted his arms in a sign of triumph.

It was also a significant moment for Indian cricket. With that booming stroke, Sehwag had broken through a major batting barrier. He became the first Indian batsman to achieve a triple hundred in Tests.

On the second day of the first Test at the Multan Cricket Ground on Monday, India declared at a mammoth 675 for five, its highest score in Tests against Pakistan, and the home team, in reply, was 42 without loss in 16 overs of batting, with the opening duo of Imran Farhat and Taufeeq Umar at the crease. Umar was fortunate on ten, when Sehwag could not hold on to a chance off Anil Kumble at short fine-leg.

Sachin Tendulkar remained unbeaten on 194 when Rahul Dravid enforced the declaration 55 minutes after tea. The Mumbai batsman is now just one short of Sunil Gavaskar's all-time mark of 34 Test centuries.

Later Sehwag said he had a good night's sleep going into the second day. "I am happy to get 309, and not disappointed at not crossing 380 (Matthew Hayden's world mark). It is great to get this score against Pakistan. This was a special innings for me,'' said Sehwag adding that Pakistan coach and batting legend Javed Miandad had congratulated him after his effort.

Despite Pakistan's sound start, India is in a position to exert considerable pressure on the host in the remaining three days of the Test on a slow pitch that is expected to assist the spinners gradually. Anil Kumble would be looking at the scenario with anticipation.

Record partnership

Earlier, Sehwag and Tendulkar, in a record third-wicket partnership for India against any country, added 336 runs in 506 balls, the frustration of the Pakistani bowlers and fielders increasing with every run.

There is a definite chemistry between the two of them. To the man from Najafgarh, Tendulkar remains his idol and inspiration. And the warmth with which Tenduklar embraced Sehwag after his 300th run said it all.

Resuming on 228, Sehwag had his moments of uncertainty on the second day. The Pakistani pacemen bowled a much better line, and both Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami were able to take the ball away from the right-hander, and when Shabbir Ahmed was introduced, he had Sehwag in more than a spot of bother.

As Sehwag neared V.V.S. Laxman's epic 281 at the Eden Gardens, which will surely remain among the most influential innings in cricket history, the 25-year-old Delhi batsman overcame an extremely tentative phase.

After surviving a close run-out call, and a confident leg-before shout, Sehwag received a reprieve in the slip cordon when Tauseef Umar was slow to react, Shabbir was the bowler to suffer. Sehwag was on 274 then. Later in the same over, Moin Khan, who flung himself to his right, failed to complete what would have been a spectacular catch as Sehwag edged a drive.

Sehwag quickly put the uncertainty behind, and there was much cheer for him when he dismissed Saqlain over mid-wicket for a historic shot.

This was an innings studded with several lovely drives through the off-side, predominantly off the back-foot, some ferocious cuts, and a few sweetly-timed strokes through the mid-wicket region. Sehwag has his limitations — limited feet movement when probed in the corridor by the pacemen being one of them — and had his share of luck in this innings, but he strikes the ball with such refreshing freedom that runs come in a cascade when he is on song.

The fact that he stood on the threshold of a major landmark, and still went for a big one off Saqlain shows his mental make-up — this man backs his natural ability more often than not. He also revealed that he could concentrate for long periods and construct an innings.

For a while it did appear that Matthew Hayden's record for the highest individual Test score would be under a threat, but Sehwag departed 36 minutes after lunch, playing away from his body at a Sami delivery around the off-stump, and this time Umar made no mistake in the slips.

Tendulkar's 33rd Test century may not have been among his attractive innings, given his awesome strokemaking ability, but he played a supporting role to Sehwag, and reached his century in 209 balls, with an on-side stroke off Abdul Razzaq behind square.

Between periods of defence, and spells when he was content to work the ball around, there were some lovely cover and off drives from Tendulkar, such as the one that streaked to the fence off Sami. However, it must be said that the run-rate in the post lunch session did drop, with Laxman finding the pitch too slow for his liking, and Tendulkar not really launching into telling strokes.

Laxman, put down at square-leg by Farhat off Saqlain at 26, fell soon, being run out going for a second run, and it was left to the left-handed Yuvraj Singh to provide a boost to the Indian innings with a hard-hitting 59 off 66 balls.

Meanwhile, Tendulkar appeared on course for back to back double hundreds in Tests — he had notched up a double century in the Sydney Test this year — when Yuvraj knocked one back to part-time spinner Farhat. The declaration came immediately.

The Pakistani bowling was a shade more disciplined today, but the fielding and catching were below average. Saqlain, once among the premier off-spinners in world cricket, ended up conceding over 200 runs. It just goes to show what lack of confidence can do to a spinner. Once a master of flight and deception, he was operating a flat leg-stump line. It was a sad sight.

A. Chopra c Farhat

b Saqlain

(121b, 5x4)
V. Sehwag c Umar b Sami309
(375b, 39x4, 6x6)
R. Dravid c Hameed b Sami6
(10b, 1x4)
S. Tendulkar (not out)194
(348b, 21x4)
V.V.S. Laxman (run out)29
Yuvraj c & b Farhat59
(66b, 8x4)
Extras (b-8, lb-20, w-1, nb-7)36
— —
Total (for five wkts. decl.) 675
— —
Fall of wickets: 1-160 (Chopra), 2-173 (Dravid), 3-509 (Sehwag), 4-565 (Laxman), 5-675 (Yuvraj).

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 32-4-119-0, Sami 34-4-110-2 (nb-1), Shabbir 31-6-122-0 (nb-1, w-1), Saqlain 43-4-204-1 (nb-5), Razzaq 15-3-61-0, Farhat 6.5-0-31-1.


I. Farhat (batting)17
(41b, 2x4)
T. Umar (batting) 20
(57b, 4x4)
Extras (lb-3, nb-2)5
— —
Total (for no loss) 42
— —

India bowling: Zaheer 4-2-5-0 (nb-1), Pathan 5-1-18-0, Kumble 4-1-9-0, Balaji 2-0-2-0, Sehwag 1-0-5-0 (nb-1).

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