For brief periods in the afternoon at the Green Park, the otherwise ebullient crowd would become glum. They were experiencing what is known in Test cricket as ‘going through the motions’.
It was an irony that while the day’s hero, Gautam Gambhir, was doing his job of consolidating his century efficiently by working the ball around with soft hands, the crowd went wild when he spooned a catch back to Muttiah Muralitharan. For, Sachin Tendulkar had walked in, disturbing the serenity of the place. But no sooner had he settled down than the fans slipped to that period of lull again.
Toil for the bowlers seems to have become the norm in the series and Tuesday was no different. A few records — India’s highest on a single day in Test cricket, and Sehwag-Gambhir bettering their previous best opening partnership — are massive reasons to celebrate. Despite that, there were patches of blandness today.
The pitch made the world’s highest wicket-taker and a couple of Sri Lankan mystery spinners look like club cricketers. From the moment Sehwag survived the first-over scare — a missed chance by the Jayawardenes to catch him — cricket became a ‘batathon’.
This throws up the question: Can a slow and low wicket on the very first day entice crowds to Test cricket? Maybe, it is too early to pass a judgement for Virender Sehwag believes it’ll turn later. Sri Lanka would be hoping it doesn’t.
The visitors ran into an inspired batting line-up, which looks set for a huge total. The man who orchestrated it did everything right. Gambhir batted a step outside the crease to negate any leg-before shouts, and stitched his bat with the pads while proffering his right leg to ensure nothing went through like it did in Ahmedabad.
Just like five years ago, when he made 96 against South Africa, he used the arc between gully and point to get runs early on. The only difference was that nothing went out of control this time.
Once settled, he bisected the fielders well, smashing shots through covers, square-cutting ably and hitting straight down. After some false, ill-timed shots, the Delhi opener got into the thick of things. His first confident stroke came in the 12th over when he stretched out to hit one through covers off the front foot off Mathews and then pulled one through the same region off the penultimate ball of that over.
If Gambhir relied on running — he got just one-third of his runs through fours — Sehwag was all power. He hammered two sixes — one off a heave over midwicket and the other over long on. Behind the deft pushes and nudges of Gambhir and the crashing hits of Sehwag was the wristy grace of Rahul Dravid. Dravid waited on the ball and directed it wherever he wanted. He was solid and, on 85, looks good for another century.