| Matthew Innes of Victoria in action on the opening day of the three-day match against India in Melbourne on Tuesday. (Reuters)
Melbourne: Sadagopan Ramesh staked a strong claim for a Test recall, ahead of the four-Test series against Australia, with an immaculate innings against Victoria on the opening day of the three-day tie at the Melbourne Cricket Ground here on Tuesday.
Both Ramesh and Sachin Tendulkar, who were dismissed in their 80s, put on 128 runs for the fourth wicket but the Indians still struggled to recover from the early dismissals (45 for three), and finished the day at 266 for nine.
Ramesh, drafted in into the XI, because V.V.S. Laxman was down with flu, concentrated for four-and-a-half hours for his 87 made from 191 balls with 10 fours before he drove a catch off leg spinner Cameron White into the covers.
Sachin, in contrast, needed only two hours for his 80 runs with 14 fours, most of them being ferocious hooks and fiercely struck square cuts as he readied himself for the short-pitched stuff which the Australians are planning for him this summer.
Sachin arrived when India were already three wickets down, including the ones of openers Akash Chopra (2) and Virender Sehwag (23), and had struggled to 56 for three by lunch.
But the face of the innings was completely transformed in the third hour which yielded 85 runs as Sachin tore into the home bowling with a half-century from just 65 deliveries.
Two of the flops for the Indians, who elected to bat, included Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid, who both fell to the left-arm pace of Matthew Innes.
Sourav, returning to the side after a groin injury, lasted a mere five balls when he flicked straight to the midwicket fielder.
Dravid, disconcerted by two deliveries which rose from a length, finally perished when he cut low but straight to the point fielder, failing to open his account even after 21 deliveries.
Sehwag too looked too casual in lifting a catch straight to the mid-off fielder though his partner Chopra was done in by a good delivery which lifted abruptly and took the handle of his bat en route to the wicketkeeper, giving debutant Brett Hopp his maiden wicket in his second over.
Sachin batted, as he has rarely played in recent times, giving full range to his strokes and even came down the track to drive and flick leg spinner White.Ramesh put his head down for the job and looked to meet the qualities which the team is looking for. The 28-year-old Tamil Nadu opener who averages 37.97 in 19 Tests last played against Sri Lanka in Colombo in 2001.
The lefthander was rarely in trouble and even showed discretion on deliveries pitched outside his off-stump. He continued to find gaps despite a packed off-side field and reached his half century with a thumping square drive off Ian Harvey. It upset Harvey, who had earlier got into an argument with umpire John Ward for declaring one of his beamers as no-ball.
India also had their grave concerns about its tail reconfirmed as Harbhajan Singh, Lakshmipathy Balaji and Zaheer Khan were involved in soft dismissals, all helping to improve the figures of White who finished with four for 59.
While Harbhajan and Zaheer hit catches to the deep, Balaji tamely went forward and lobbed a catch straight back to the bowler as India lost four wickets for 29 runs.
But wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel battled gamely for his unbeaten half-century which came from 107 balls. Victorians stuck to their task superbly with both Innes and White finishing with four scalps each. (PTI)