Ahmedabad: Beware Black Caps. The crisis men of Indian cricket are on song again and it will take a lot of effort to dislodge them on this alarmingly slow Motera wicket.
Rahul Dravid and Vangipurappu Laxman have always had a superb understanding and forged some memorable partnerships. Be it the epic stand at Eden Gardens or the more recent one during the Irani Trophy, the pair’s contribution has always proved decisive.
Captain Sourav Ganguly preferred to send Laxman ahead because of a boil on the left side of his waist. A doctor had to be called in the morning to release the accumulated pus. The skipper is expected to be fit and will bat on Thursday.
Sachin Tendulkar’s departure at 134 for three made the scorebook look very grim. Another wicket and the pressure would have been telling on the hosts on the opening day of this Videocon series. But the unbroken 115-run fourth wicket stand was enough to dent whatever little hopes the visitors had harboured.
Dravid (batting 110) played the stellar role knocking his 15th hundred and fourth versus New Zealand. Forget the fine geometry of his strokes, it was more a triumph of circumstance, of timing. Most of the 12 boundaries during his 235-ball vigil — including a classical cover drive on his knees in Jacob Oram’s first over with the second new ball — will be etched in the memory to be savoured at leisure.
It was not just the skills that captivated, it was the assurance. The circumstances did not make him feel in awe, he evoked it.
Dravid and Laxman reclaimed the advantage in the last session once the visitors had worked their way into the match with two hours of disciplined cricket after lunch.
It was Daniel Vettori who had brought about their turnaround with an unchanged 15-over spell during which he troubled both debutant Akash Chopra and Sachin with his length and variation.
Dravid, however, was not the least bothered. With sublime orthodoxy he shredded their attack. Laxman’s effort, at the other end, remained uncomplicated but delightful. He was harsh on anything short, pulling with disdain.
Vettori had said before the tour that it was essential for him to tie one end up for the other bowlers to reap the benefits from the other end. He carried out the plan with precision against Sachin and proved why he is being regarded as the best left-arm spinner in business. The varying flight and the turn he managed to extract troubled the Master Blaster keeping him unusually quiet.
Sachin scratched around 38 balls for his eight and edged to first slip chasing a wide delivery from Scott Styris.
“I’m pretty pleased with Sachin’s wicket. It’s one thing getting him back in New Zealand but over here his wicket is regarded as a prized scalp,” said Styris later.
“It was pretty warm out there. We played well in the first two sessions but were pretty tired and jaded by the evening,” he explained.
Once the coin fell in Sourav’s favour, Virender Sehwag had threatened to run away with the game in the first hour with a series of blazing strokes. As the visitors harped on testing Sehwag square of the wicket on the offside, the opener retaliated with a series of cuts. At least two gullies waited for the ball that was hit in the air. The lone six of the day came off a ferocious Sehwag cut in Daryl Tuffey’s third over. The ball kissed Crag McMillan’s fingers at third man on its way over the ropes.
Chopra missed a half-century on debut by eight runs, falling prey to Vettori’s guile. Noticing the Delhi batsman’s willingness to come down the track, Vettori kept tossing the ball up and inviting him to go for the drive, until he held one back a fraction. He drove it straight back to the bowler.
Chopra had a life on 34 but he did look confident and was able to ward off the first-Test blues in the initial stages of his innings. Presenting a straight bat, he did show a lot of patience during his 158-minute stay. A vital trait for an opener to succeed.