Balance and timing blended with focus and determination as Rahul Dravid built a monument to orchestrate a stirring Indian recovery at Motera here on Monday.
With his mind and body in harmony, Dravid (177 not out, 251b, 26x4, 1x6) became only the fifth batsman – Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Ricky Ponting and Allan Border had achieved the feat earlier – to reach 11,000 runs in Test cricket.
After the conclusion of a hot, gruelling day, the Sri Lankan cricketers, in a wonderfully sporting gesture, congratulated Dravid for his epic innings under duress.
Electing to bat and reeling at 32 for four - left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara scalped three in a deadly opening burst - India ended an entertaining opening day of the first Test against Sri Lanka at a satisfying 385 for six. The pitch eased out considerably as the day progressed. This is the highest score by India on the first day of a Test.
Dravid and Dhoni add 224 runs
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni batted smartly for a 159-ball 110. There were occasions when Dhoni – who notched up his second Test century - muscled the ball in typical fashion. He also worked the ball into the open spaces and ran hard between the wickets. When he slashed, he did so hard.
The sixth-wicket pair of Dravid and Dhoni added a whopping 224 runs in 306 balls. Earlier, the left-handed Yuvraj Singh batted with freedom and enterprise for a valuable 68 (93b, 13x4). In an association that put India back on course, Dravid and Yuvraj put on 125 vital runs for the fifth wicket in 173 balls.
Dhoni and Yuvraj came up with admirable efforts but the day belonged to Dravid, who notched up his 27th Test hundred in his 135th Test. He was calm and assured in the middle. While he was technically pure, Dravid also batted in a manner that was refreshingly positive.
He was tight in the corridor against the pacemen, picking the two-way movement of left-armer Welegadara better than the rest. Crucially, his feet movement was decisive.
In complete control
The key to Dravid's game at the critical No. 3 slot lies in how well he reads situation. There was some early juice in the pitch and Dravid brought his technical attributes to the fore while coping with the lateral movement. He was in complete control when he got behind the line solidly or allowed the ball to go through to the 'keeper even while covering for the movement with his front pad.
Dravid batted straight when the delivery demanded such a response but put away the loose balls ruthlessly on both sides of the wicket.
He drove, punched and pushed the pacemen through covers, whipped them off his legs when they strayed in line, and even waltzed down the track to loft left-arm spinner Rangana Herath for a six over long-on in the first session!
As his innings developed, Dravid's inside-out cover-drives off Muralitharan, after he created the room and the space with delicate footwork, scorched the turf.
And Herath realised how well Dravid can use the depth of the crease, as the batsman waited before playing the ball late between point and third man with soft hands and sure touch. The placements were precise. And late in the day, when the speedy Dammika Prasad pitched one short, Dravid dismissed the ball to the square-leg fence with a fierce pull. It was a day when the different aspects of Dravid's batsmanship were on view.
A troubled start for India
Earlier, the lively Welegedara, who ran in well and delivered with a whippy action, got the ball to deviate both ways from a left-armer's natural over-the-wicket angle. He also hit the right areas. The left-handed Gautam Gambhir opened the face of the bat only to play on after the ball held its line. Virender Sehwag appeared to be getting into his stride when he shaped outside the line of a Welegedara delivery that pitched in line and straightened to be adjudged leg-before. Maestro Sachin Tendulkar was a touch loose with his attempted push outside the off-stump. The ball darted in to rearrange woodwork.
India plunged in deeper trouble when V.V.S. Laxman played on to a Prasad off-cutter. The Lankan paceman generated impressive speeds.
The 'great Indian barrier'
India, however, recovered. Yuvraj batted with panache, clipping Angelo Matthews and using his feet to off-drive Muralitharan. There were a couple of scintillating straight drives too from the southpaw after he got to the pitch of the ball.
Muralitharan prised out Yuvraj – the batsman came down the pitch for a firm push - with a flighted delivery of revolution and dip that struck his pad and brushed his glove before being held at cover.
Dhoni had his share of luck initially – a couple of edges flew wide of the fielders – but settled down. A wristy hit for the maximum close to the sightscreen off Muralitharan was a typical strike by the Indian captain.
Prasad eventually removed Dhoni with extra bounce after the second new ball was taken; 'keeper Prasanna Jayawardene nailed the offering. The Lankans may have missed a trick by playing Herath ahead of Ajantha Mendis, who has harried India in the past. In the event, Herath, who was steady at best, could not capitalise on the pressure created by the pacemen. Sri Lanka failed to choke the flow of runs.
Dravid - the great Indian barrier – was at the heart of it all.