Sussex coach Mark Robinson, explaining why the team rested some stalwarts — captain Chris Adams and the two overseas players in Mushtaq Ahmed and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan — said each of the XI who played hoped to make it to the England squad.
Saqlain Mushtaq, incidentally, received his British passport a week ago and might soon be a rival to Monty Panesar, but for those who were listening to Robinson earlier in the day, it was tough to imagine anyone apart from Saqlain staking a claim for a national cap, even if they are county champions.
Andrew Hodd, though, put that theory in the dustbin on Monday afternoon. Hodd gets to play for Sussex only when first-choice wicketkeeper Matthew Prior is on England duty. Happily for him, Prior was unavailable for this game, and happily for his coach, the 23-year-old right-hander showed that he indeed is top-class stuff. Four Indian batsmen threatened to hit the three-figure mark, but it was Hodd who got there before anyone else (106 n.o). Sussex declared soon after, 88 runs behind the Indians at 300/6.
The day began dark and dismal, a steady rain suggested that an enforced rest, indoors, was on the cards. It did dampen the bodies of the fans, but not their spirits — they hung around, waiting for the clouds to scatter, which happened in the afternoon. The players meandered around the dressing room, sipping tea and exchanging news, on the weather, possibly. But as many as 49 overs were lost.
Laxman led the team in the absence of Dravid, who is suffering from a calf strain. The team management insisted it was not an injury, that it was "not serious at all" and hopefully, that is true.
When play did begin, the ball darted around a bit and the batsmen were troubled. RP Singh and Sreesanth beat the edge umpteen times, and got the ball to kiss the edge as well, but there only one real chance, when Dhoni dropped Martin-Jenkins off Sreesanth. Hodd too was dropped on 75, but was masterful otherwise. Sussex declared soon after.
India began their second essay with a point to prove, but were soon in familiar territory, one down with not much on the board, when an inswinger from Lewry caught Jaffer plumb in front. India 5/1.
It was his second failure and he and Dravid — who said he had his top six in place for the first Test — would be a little anxious going into the second tour game at Chelmsford from Friday, the 13th.
In came Dhoni, he of the swinging bat and a largely miserable outing so far. The Indian fans perked up and Dhoni didn't disappoint them, with two spanking fours past point in the first over he faced, off Lewry.
But Lewry had the last laugh as Dhoni lasted just 11 balls, falling when he went to hook one bounced in short and spooned it to a waiting long leg instead. India 19/2.
Yuvraj walked in then, Dravid was obviously giving all his players a chance to come good. He was beaten a bit but hung on with Karthik, cautiously watching proceedings from the other end, till stumps (21/2).
India bat deep enough and as more rain is predicted for Tuesday, a result is extremely unlikely. But if play does happen, some good bowling could make things interesting. Sussex though, should be happy with what they've done. A couple of men did put up their hands, and they showed why they are the champions.