Rested they may have been, rusted they weren’t. Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly celebrated their return to the Indian team by approaching centuries on the first day of the first Test against Bangladesh here on Friday.
Captain Rahul Dravid and Dinesh Karthik also climbed the run tree and helped themselves to sweet fifties. India, having won the toss, finished at a comfortable 295 for three despite the shock of losing Wasim Jaffer to Mashrafe Mortaza off the first ball of the match. At stumps, Tendulkar and Ganguly were on 80 and 82, respectively, having put on 163 runs for the fourth wicket, so far.
Rain came during lunch and forced a 55-minute delay, causing a 53-minute extension of play. Still, only 77 overs could be bowled before it got too dark.
Left out of the ODIs, ostensibly for rest, Tendulkar and Ganguly got together during a tense post-lunch session. Bangladesh had sent Karthik and Dravid back to stage a minor recovery. Shahadat Hossain was firing them in at around 85mph and extracting bounce from a wicket that otherwise offered little to the spin bowlers.
It wasn’t easy. Hossain was charged up. He sent some six bouncers in all at the two, often following up by running close to the batsmen and looking them in the eye. One ball brushed Tendulkar’s sleeve and went to the wicketkeeper, leading to a strong appeal. In 11 overs in the hour after lunch, India scored just 30 and lost two wickets.
But Hossain lived out his intensity while the famed Indian duo stayed calm, scoring off the spinners. Tendulkar used ‘feel’ strokes — a bit like his idol John McEnroe — to coast along. There were soft paddle sweeps and nudges, glances and steers. He guided the ball more than hit it. It was remarkable to watch because his shots had just enough pace on them to roll to the boundary or stretch the fielder. There was no sign of his occasional discomfort against left-arm spin.
Ganguly too concentrated on placement. But can there be a spell of spin bowling without the left-hander dancing down the track and lofting a few? On Friday, Ganguly did it twice in the post-tea session, clearing the ropes both times, the bowler being left-arm spinner Mohammad Rafique.
Earlier, Mortaza gave the match an electrifying start by clean bowling Jaffer off the first ball. Known for his outswinger, he brought one into the Mumbai stalwart. Jaffer shouldered arms, the ball speared in, the bails leapt. The crowd at the Bir Sreshtha Shahid Ruhul Amin ground erupted.
Gordon Greenidge occupies an important place in Bangladesh cricket. He was their coach in the late 90s and helped set up their development programme. He holds honourary citizenship. But on Friday, the Greenidge influence was seen on Jaffer. His dismissal was similar to Greenidge’s off Balwinder Singh Sandhu in the 1983 World Cup final.
Fortunately, India recovered. Dravid came in and along with Karthik, the other opener, added 124. Hossain had a wayward line which eased the pressure off Dravid and Karthik.
Once the shock of Jaffer’s dismissal dissipated, runs flowed. Even Rafique, a respected left-arm spinner, wasn’t too efective. At the end of the first hour, India had stroked 67 runs off 11 overs.
The partnership between Dravid, 34, and Karthik, 22, had the look of a mentor-protégé alliance. There were mid-pitch conferences, where Karthik could be seen nodding at what his captain said. Fist-butting followed every small success. Thankfully, there were a few.Off-spinner Ramesh Powar finally made his Test debut as Anil Kumble’s spin partner. India left VVS Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and left-arm spinner Rajesh Pawar out. Zaheer Khan, RP Singh and VRV Singh will handle the fast bowling responsibility.In a belated move, Surendra Bhave, the Indian team’s administrative manager, said Tendulkar had been named the India vice-captain for the Test series. He continues in the role he took over for the home one-day series against West Indies and the World Cup.