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Sehwag and Dravid in monumental stand

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RUN RIOT: Virender Sehwag was unstoppable in the first Test against Pakistan in Lahore on Monday. The Delhi opener (247 not out) and Team India captain Rahul Dravid (128 not out) came within 11 runs (403) of surpassing the 50-year-old world record op ening partnership of 413 when the fourth day's play was called off due to bad light. Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad accomplished their feat at the Corporation Stadium in Chennai in the 1955-56 series against New Zealand. Photo: S. Subramanium
RUN RIOT: Virender Sehwag was unstoppable in the first Test against Pakistan in Lahore on Monday. The Delhi opener (247 not out) and Team India captain Rahul Dravid (128 not out) came within 11 runs (403) of surpassing the 50-year-old world record op ening partnership of 413 when the fourth day's play was called off due to bad light. Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad accomplished their feat at the Corporation Stadium in Chennai in the 1955-56 series against New Zealand. Photo: S. Subramanium

S. Dinakar

The Indian captain blunted the pacemen at one end, while Sehwag cut loose at the other None of the Pakistan bowlers could get the ball to reverse swing alarmingly It was a triumph for emergency opener Dravid when he reached his 21st Test hundred

Lahore: The Indian campaign in Pakistan received a psychological boost with the opening pair remaining unseparated for 75 overs in a bright tale of continuity on a cloudy day of interruptions.

India captain and non-regular opener Rahul Dravid made a statement with an effort of raging intensity at the crease - that his team would be resilient on this demanding tour. And Virender Sehwag signalled a return to form in the only manner he knows - thumping the bowlers around and bringing back memories of the unhappy kind for the host.

The swashbuckling Sehwag and the technically accomplished Dravid, have in a monumental opening partnership, added 403 runs in 320 minutes of batting in the first Allianz Test at the Gaddafi ground on Monday.

At close on the fourth day, Sehwag (247 batting, 240b, 46x4, 1x6) and Dravid (128 batting, 227b, 19x4) were on the brink of the all-time Test record opening stand of 413 between countrymen Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad against New Zealand in Madras in 1955-56.

On a placid pitch that has proved heart-breaking for the bowlers, India appears well placed to surpass the home team's mammoth first innings score of 679 for seven on the fifth and final day.

Pakistan, which has a superior pace attack, has definitely not done its cause any good by preparing a pitch that has now enabled the Indians to seize the mental initiative.

Frustrated lot

As the day drew towards a close, the Pakistani pacemen Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammed Sami revealed their frustration by indulging in gamesmanship. Akhtar attempted to engage Dravid in a verbal duel, but the Indian captain, apart from looking the fiery paceman in the eye, did not take the bait. Sami walked down the pitch and there was a subsequent exchange of words between him and Sehwag.

The Indian captain blunted the pacemen at one end, and Sehwag cut loose at the other. Their contrast in styles meant that the Pakistani bowlers were forced to bowl different lengths to different field settings.

The blazing Delhi batsman reached his 11th Test hundred with a rasping cover drive, and despite breaks due to weather, did not lose his rhythm. His driving square off the wicket and through the covers was imperious. If the ball was on the middle and leg-stumps, he was quick with his flick. And he invariably found the gaps, as paceman Rana Naved found out, getting hit for a barrage of boundaries.

Dravid has this inspirational quality about him, and, perhaps the sight of his captain proving rock-solid at the other end spurred Sehwag on. He did fend a couple of lifting deliveries awkwardly off his ribs, but for most part, the Delhi batsman handled short-pitched bowling creditably.

Technically, Sehwag is attempting to sway away from the line by keeping his eyes on the ball. The method, still not perfected by him, cannot, however, be faulted.

Sehwag's driving down the ground was impeccable and he used his feet to strike Danish Kaneria - who failed to impress - over the infield and over the ropes. He kept picking the length of the ball in a jiffy and was ready with an answer.

Sehwag gave a chance on 199 when Shoaib Malik failed to hold a difficult catch at third man, but had earned some luck for himself. He motored to the second quickest double hundred (his third in Test cricket) in Test history, off only 182 balls. Earlier, the Indian vice-captain also notched up the fastest hundred (93 balls) by an Indian opener, bettering Sunil Gavaskar's 94-ball effort at the expense of the West Indian bowlers in the Delhi Test of 1983.

Interestingly, Sehwag's partner Dravid constructed an innings that would have done Gavaskar proud. Much like Gavaskar, Dravid has the shots and like the legendary opener, the Indian captain cut out the risks in the interest of the team. With unwavering focus and a tight defence, he took the sting off the Pakistani pace attack.

Perfect judgment

Dravid's judgment was impeccable; he was so certain about his off-stump that he did not provide the Pakistani pacemen with a hint of an opportunity. He was perfectly balanced in defence and later in the innings essayed some lovely off-drives, flicks and square cuts.

It was a triumph for the emergency opener when he swept off-spinner Malik to reach his 21st Test hundred.

Dravid's duels with the opposition are as much mental as technical. He has a Steve Waugh-like toughness about him. He doesn't wilt under pressure; he thrives on adversity.

The Pakistani bowlers suffered on a surface that held little for them. But then, neither Akhtar nor the expensive Rana or Sami could get the ball to reverse swing alarmingly. This factor holds much significance for both sides.

Meanwhile, Pakistan named an unchanged squad for the second Test.

SCOREBOARD

Pakistan - 1st innings: 679 for seven decl.

India - 1st innings: V. Sehwag (batting) 247, R. Dravid (batting) 128;

Extras (b-2, lb-7, w-2, nb-17): 28; Total (for no loss in 75 overs) 403.

Pakistan bowling: Akhtar 15-6-45-0, Rana Naved 15-1-88-0, Afridi 11-0-55-0, Sami 12-1-67-0, Kaneria 10-0-69-0, Malik 12-1-70-0.

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