| Virender Sehwag after reaching his century on Day III of the second Test versus New Zealand in Mohali on Saturday. (PTI)
|Craig McMillan celebrates his hundred in Mohali on Saturday. (Reuters)
Chandigarh, Oct.18: Seven wickets in three days cannot be an excellent advertisement for Test cricket. However, while the New Zealanders aren’t flustered, Team India is up in ‘arms’. The unhappiness found a voice when centurion Virender Sehwag pointedly asked: “At home, why can’t we play to our strength' Why can’t we have pitches which turn'”
The answer can come either from Board president Jagmohan Dalmiya or the specialised committee headed by one Venkat Sundaram. The Mohali wicket, after all, was relaid on the Board’s “instructions” last year and the result is there for all to see.
Of course, in the unlikely event of an Indian collapse on the fourth morning, the second (and deciding) Videocon Test could see a result in New Zealand’s favour but, otherwise, it will be remembered for having taxed the statisticians.
While Punjab Cricket Association president Inderjit Singh Bindra, incidentally a former Board president, publicly apologised (on the TV) for the wicket, top gun Chris Cairns (who has joined the Black Caps ahead of the tri-series) quipped: “I’m glad I’m not playing this Test...”
Sure, the Zaheer Khans have to be blamed for lacking direction and bite on Day I, but the PCA Stadium wicket seems to have got better. And, the less said about the promised bounce the better.
At stumps on the third day, India had reached 203 for one — fantastic had circumstances been different, but not quite so given that New Zealand declared at a record 630 for six. The visitors’ innings extended till 84 minutes into the opening session, by when they added as many as 94.
New Zealand’s total is their highest overseas, a big improvement on 553 for seven declared in Brisbane (1985-86). Then, there are just nine previous instances of four centurions in one innings.
India, by the way, conceded a half-century of sundries for the sixth and not fourth time (as reported in these columns today).
The declaration was effected when Craig McMillan became the innings’ fourth centurion (an unbeaten 100 — his sixth century — in 197 minutes off 130 balls, 7x4, 1x6). Indeed, he has justified the selectors’ confidence, after being ignored for the post-World Cup tour of Sri Lanka.
In Motera, McMillan had scores of 54 and a match-saving 83 not out.
Unbeaten, too, was Daniel Vettori on a punishing 48 (70 minutes, 50 deliveries, 5x4). The day isn’t far off when this genial Aucklander will graduate to being respected as a full-fledged allrounder and not merely a specialist left-arm spinner who can score a few runs.
As New Zealand forced the pace this morning only, it’s accepted that even a draw — which will make it 0-0 — will leave them quite happy. Actually, Cairns gave a nice insight into his teammates’ minds: “Everybody is aware that very few teams go back undefeated... Not losing is itself creditable...”
Fair enough, but one expects a captain of Stephen Fleming’s reputation to try and change an already favourable script instead of meandering along.
Whatever the nature of the wicket, though, absolutely nothing should detract from Sehwag’s superbly composed 128 not out (294 minutes, 212 balls, 16x4, 2x6) — his fourth century in under two years and third as opener. That 105 on debut, in Bloemfontein, alone came in the middle order.
“I wanted to bat through the day... That’s why I didn’t go for the shots where an element of risk was there,” Sehwag pointed out, during an interaction with the Media. He denied being under pressure both because of the monumental task and his own failure in the first Test (29 and 17).
Later, speaking briefly to The Telegraph, he insisted that his debut century would always remain most special. “Pehle Test mein kya ho ga, kisi ko pata to nahin rahta... Woh innings to hamesha jyada special rahe gi..”
While Sehwag remained unbeaten, the solid Akash Chopra posted his first fifty in his third Test innings. In Motera, he scored 42 and 31. This afternoon, Akash recorded 60 (196 minutes, 148 deliveries, 6x4) before falling uncharacteristically to Darryl Tuffey.
Akash’s 60 didn’t just enable India have a competitive start, it has almost confirmed a berth for the first half (four-Test series) of the tour to Australia. Moreover, it’s not that the Delhiite doesn’t have shots — the near full house, for example, was treated to sparkling drives.
Understandably, the more aggressive hits came off Sehwag’s blade. He reached his fifty extravagantly, with a six at Paul Wiseman’s expense. After his century, Sehwag helped himself to another six off the same bowler.
There was a bit of a flutter in the 90s, when Sehwag ducked into one pitched short by Tuffey and, then, lost his partner on 99. However, he didn’t allow either incident to become a crisis. It’s a pointer to the maturity shown by Sehwag and, while he may prefer batting in the middle, he is game for shouldering whatever responsibility is assigned.
Despite individual (and distinctive) field placements for both openers, Fleming was rewarded as late as the 48th over. The Sehwag-Akash partnership was worth 164 — a rare performance in the makeshift openers’ era.
Keeping Sehwag company (at stumps) was stand-in captain Rahul Dravid. Clearly, Team India couldn’t have a more suitable batsman to carry forward the let’s-save-the-follow-on agenda. If a few seats were vacant today, we should have a packed house on the morrow.