Virender Sehwag regained his form with a magnificent century (117 off 117 balls) and Cheteswar Pujara scored stroke-laden 98 not out as India wheedled out 323 for four on the first day of the first Test against England here on Thursday. Off-spinner Graeme Swann claimed all the four wickets.
It was an atypical Sehwag knock, not in the manner he constructed it for the pace was brisk as ever, but for the method he embraced in his pursuit. He reduced his instinctive slash on the off-side — among his percentage shots — but rather waited for the ball and not hastening to it, then opened his bat face and directed it with utmost dexterity, mostly behind point.
This was perhaps his least chancy effort in a while, and much of it owed to his discipline, especially outside the off-stump. He neither wafted much outside the off-stump, as is his disposition, nor attempted impetuous cross-bat voops. It was chiefly about Sehwag resisting his own temptations than wearing down at attack on a sundried, day-one surface.
After a mid-innings flurry — wherein he terminated James Anderson and Tim Bresnan’s spells, the latter with a dragged maximum over midwicket and the former with three boundaries in an over — he bedded in before hefting Swann over midwicket to complete his century (still achieved in only 90 balls). Together with Gautam Gambhir, whose attrition was nipped at 45 by Swann, they laced 134 for the first wicket, their first hundred association since the second innings in Centurion in 2010.
But that though hardly dried the harvest, as Pujara blossomed, after being reprieved by Anderson at mid-on when he was only eight. His backfoot punches off Anderson were as delectable as his tucks off the spinners. He leant nicely into Swann, driving him either side of the wicket before charging and lacing him through extra cover. No other English bowler posed as much threat as Swann, who breached Jim Laker as England’s most successful English off-spinner. He was on a plane of his own—purveying his trade with serene of a man with wholesome knowhow of his trade.
His craft fully bore its stamp in Gambhir’s dismissal. His length, fuller but not to the extent of drivable, frequently discomfited Gambhir and his indecisiveness on the back-foot glared out. Consequently, after Matt Prior stumbled a stumping off a ball that spun viciously and beat Gambhir, he bowled Gambhir with his skidder in the same over. Sehwag’s scalp was nothing unusual, the batsman to fault as much, but not too many spinners have beaten Sachin Tendulkar in flight.
The off-spinner that snaked through Virat Kohli’s defence was as classical an off-spinner’s mode of dismissal as it could get. How England would rue benching Monty Panesar, who would have reveled in these circumstances and India could have been neck-deep in remorse of their backfired dustbowl strategy.
By the tenth over of the dynamically poised series opener, the re-laid Motera strip resembled a fragmented map, scoffed-up by the England bowlers’ hefty landings. If the signifier is any, rather ominously for England, it could be snake-pit by the time they ready for the fourth innings, if at all that is required.