The metamorphosis in Gautam Gambhir has been remarkable. Without compromising on flair, the dasher has now become a stayer. His sure-footed 167 at Green Park here on Tuesday was the prolific Gambhir's fourth hundred in successive Tests. In a stunning run, the southpaw has seven centuries in his last nine Tests.
Gambhir's opening partner, the belligerent Virender Sehwag, blitzed a 122-ball 131 after a rather watchful start following an early reprieve.
India, winning an important toss, was 417 for two at stumps before a colourful and a near-capacity crowd on the first day of the second Test. This is the most number of runs scored by India in a single day of a Test.
While the pace of the run-getting has increased in Tests, the flat tracks have been a contributing factor. The batsmen have been playing more shots but are also being helped by an increasing number of placid pitches. The surface here, at least on day one, was no exception. The batsmen are certainly not complaining. The in-form Rahul Dravid was on a serene, unbeaten 85 of pleasing drives. Maestro Sachin Tendulkar is on 20.
The run feast promises to continue on Wednesday. Will this pitch offer assistance to the spinners from day four? After the first hour when the ball darted around – this was largely due to the dew on the surface rather than a layer of dead grass on the wicket – the pitch turned into another batting beauty. In the early phase, Gambhir played close to his body and Sehwag curbed his attacking instinct.
Sehwag was yet to open his account when he edged left-armer Chanaka Welegedara's delivery angling across and Mahela Jayawardene, his vision obstructed by wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene diving across, spilled a low catch.
Welegedara and Angelo Matthews - the Sri Lankans left out injured pacemen Dammika Prasad to include a third spinner in Ajantha Mendis – bowled capably without luck. Both the openers played and missed, were rapped on the pads.
Matthews has a useful off-cutter and came desperately close to winning a leg-before decision against Sehwag; replays showed the ball brushing the leg-stump.
Sehwag opened out gradually. Two scorching drives down-the-ground off Matthews sped to the fence. While meeting the ball with a full and a straight bat reduced the risks, it was also a quicker way to find the ropes. The straight boundary at Green Park is considerably shorter than the ones on the sides.
Once the spinners came on, both openers cut loose. The Indian game-plan was clear - do not allow the spinners to settle down.
Gambhir launched into Rangana Herath; a left-arm spinner is less of a threat against a southpaw.
Using his feet and the crease, Gambhir struck three boundaries in Herath's first over – two cover-drives off either foot and a lofted stroke over mid-on – and Sangakkara took the spinner off. India was winning the mental duel.
Mendis was punished by Sehwag in the first over; a full toss was ruthlessly dismissed over the mid-wicket boundary. The Sri Lankans were not helping their cause either with some ordinary bowling.
Mendis and Herath never really recovered from the pounding and off-spinning wizard Muttiah Muralitharan was greeted with twinkling footwork and rapier-like strokes. Much of Sehwag's stroke-play was audacious; he was driving Muralitharan through the covers against the spin.
The total raced to 131 for no loss at lunch and both batsmen reached hundreds after lunch. It was Muralitharan who eventually broke the partnership that had put on 233 runs in 41.2 overs. He had Sehwag swiftly held by Tillakaratne Dilshan at extra cover with a flighted delivery that straightened from just outside the off-stump.
Gambhir, once again using the depth of the crease admirably to shorten the length, and Dravid put together 137 runs in 230 balls with positive batting.
Muralitharan came under the hammer but eventually consumed Gambhir with flight and dip after going round-the-wicket. He pouched a marvellous return catch.
Dravid continued to pile on the runs. The feature of Dravid's batting was the ease and the fluency with which he breached the field with back-footed cover-drives off Muralitharan. The experienced right-hander is in wonderful batting rhythm and he leaned into his cover and off-drives off the front foot as well off the pacemen.
Matthews sent down a disciplined – an attribute the Lankan bowling lacked for most part - spell late in the day. The Sri Lankans pinned their hopes on the second new ball taken in the closing stages of Tuesday.
India has brought in paceman S. Sreesanth and left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha for Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra for the Test.