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India rely on Viru-lence

cricket Updated: Aug 01, 2008 01:20 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times
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When things are not going your way even something as simple as a break in play for rain can make a huge difference. India squandered a perfect start — a resounding answer to Sri Lanka's first Test effort — losing four wickets in the space of 11 runs to end a rain-truncated day on 214 for 4. Virender Sehwag, who had blazed his way to an unbeaten 128, seemed to be batting on a different plane from his teammates.

Anil Kumble had a broad smile on his face when he called heads, correctly, and had first batting use of the Galle International Stadium pitch on a day that had dawned bright and sunny. Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir opened with a determination to take the attack to the bowlers. Gambhir, shuffling forward repeatedly but not committing to a stroke, gave one chance, edging Vaas to second slip when on 13. But Prasanna Jayawardene, diving far to his left, temporarily unsighted Kumar Sangakkara and a catch that should have been taken was shelled.

From then on, though, there was no respite for the bowlers. From Chaminda Vaas and Nuwan Kulasekara to Ajantha Mendis and Muttiah Muralitharan, all comers suffered at Sehwag's hands. Sehwag's driving off the back foot, through cover, was pinpoint accurate, often sending the ball between two fielders positioned for the shot. Gambhir, not quite as dominant against the quick men, played with remarkable poise and control against the spinners, repeatedly drilling the ball through the infield.

When the 100-run partnership came up, less than 20 overs had been bowled and the ground that India had lost at the Sinhalese Sports Club was being steadily reclaimed. They continued in the same vein to lunch, with Sehwag, on 91, narrowly missing out on becoming only the fifth player to make a century on Day One.

Before the players could get to the first course of lunch, dark clouds arrived with the stealth of an ambush and the speed of the wind, bucketing down a serious quantity of rain in a short burst. Although the rain stopped in less than half an hour, it would take the groundstaff, who had done a tremendous job in covering the arena, more than three hours to get the field of play ready. Mendis then struck, landing a straight one on the stumps, beating Gambhir's bat and striking pad. Billy Doctrove ruled in favour of the bowling side and Gambhir immediately appealed, but third umpire Mark Benson concurred with the original decision. With Gambhir gone for 56, Rahul Dravid walked out at No. 3. Dravid quickly poached a single that took him past Sunil Gavaskar's tally of 10,122 runs, and managed another one before a Mendis offbreak came back in just enough to take the inside edge and the ball went to Malinda Warnapura at short-leg.

Sachin Tendulkar began with a peachy drive off Mendis that raced to the long-off boundary, but on 5, could not get bat down in time to keep out a Vaas delivery that tailed in late. The spontaneous and sustained shout for the lbw was greeted by Rudi Koertzen's slow finger of death.

Vaas, whose pre-lunch spell read 0 for 38, then added a second scalp. Sourav Ganguly hung his bat outside off and only managed a thick nick to the wicketkeeper. From 167 for 0 India had crumbled to 178 for 4, bringing the middling crowd to its feet. VVS Laxman offered one sharp chance to leg slip, but managed to stay at the crease till play was first stopped and then called off for bad light with India on 214 for 4. Sehwag, who reached the fifth fastest Test hundred by an Indian, off 87 balls, ended the day on 128.

After India's murderous beginning, Sri Lanka had bowled themselves right back into the game. If the rain stays away on the second day, we could have a potboiler on our hands.