The opening day of the three-Test series showcased two players of contrasting styles.
The intrepid Virender Sehwag blazed away and the resilient Rahul Dravid held firm. Both batsmen made crucial centuries at the Sardar Patel Stadium here on Thursday.
Sehwag's blistering 173 and a typically battling 104 from Dravid were the highlights as India finished day one of the first Test at a strong 329 for three.
Importantly, the two added 237 runs off 376 deliveries for the second wicket to lay a solid platform for India. Both fell in the latter stages of the day.
The surface for the match is an interesting one. The footmarks of the bowlers around the right-hander's leg-stump at both ends are so pronounced that they could easily develop into threatening roughs.
The top soil does seem to be a touch loose and spinners could make major inroads as the match progresses. Already, the odd delivery is keeping low.
India holds the aces after winning the toss and then moving towards a sizeable first innings total. Skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni finally got the spin of the coin right after a losing streak of nine Tests.
Soon, Sehwag assumed centre-stage. The ease with which the opener waded into his shots on a sluggish track, where stroke-production was difficult, underlined his special ability.
Once again he picked the length quickly, timed the ball like the natural that he is, and found the gaps with the ease of a genius. Sehwag's bat-speed was stunning. Being versatile, he could unleash the powerful blows or direct the ball with soft hands.
The fearless batsman's 22nd Test hundred was high on octane. He hustled the Kiwis, disrupted their rhythm. Sehwag cashed in on the slightest width, cutting and punching the pacemen off his back foot, and whipping them ruthlessly. Experienced seamer Chris Martin suffered in particular.
The manner in which Sehwag danced down to left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, creating space for the inside-out drives on the off-side, made delightful viewing. India was 127 for one at lunch and Sehwag had raced to 87.
He was reprieved twice — on 144 by off-spinner Jeetan Patel off his own bowling and at 155 by substitute Martin Guptill at deep mid-wicket off debutant off-spinning all-rounder Kane Williamson — but failed to kick on to a double century. By this stage, he was suffering from knee pain and was batting with a runner.
There was a shift in Dravid's mind-set during this effort. In the away series in Sri Lanka and the home Tests against the Australians, Dravid had ventured into far too many strokes in the early stages of his innings. He appeared to be caught up with the ‘momentum factor' and his stays in the middle were brief. In a nutshell, he was not playing his famous waiting game.
This time around, Dravid took his time with a slow start. Then he built his innings, brick by brick. Gradually Dravid gained in confidence and upped the tempo.
He essayed the cut shot with precision and drove pleasingly through the off-side field off either foot. Dravid used his feet against the spinners, wristed them through the on-side.
It was a triumphant moment for Dravid when he embraced his 30th Test century. Despite a few sterling strokes, this innings was much about his heart.
Vettori lacks penetration
Vettori consumed Sehwag with a delivery that drifted in but lacked penetration for most part because of his tendency to bowl from wide off the crease. He needed to get closer to the stumps in these conditions to spin the ball away from the right-hander.
On pitches with greater bounce, Vettori's tactics might have worked; on those tracks he often strikes with deliveries that straighten.
Patel, essentially a one-dimensional spinner, requires to vary his trajectory and angle a lot more. He was taken to the cleaners.
Martin prised out Rahul Dravid with the second new ball — the batsman dragged one to his stumps trying to cut a delivery outside off-stump — but lacked the air-speed to test the Indians on a slow pitch with hardly any carry.
Debutant paceman Hamish Bennett was sharp with his bustling run-up and whippy open-chested action. He would be a bigger threat if he pulls down his non-bowling arm more before release.
Under the circumstances, occasional seamer Jesse Ryder did well to remove out-of-form opener Gautam Gambhir when the left-hander, without footwork, played on attempting to drive an off-cutter.
The script might have been different had 'keeper Gareth Hopkins held on to the catch when Dravid, on 28, under-edged Ryder.
Keywords: India-New Zealand Test series