Melbourne, Dec. 26: Virender Sehwag used his bat like an extended scimitar, cutting the Australian attack to pieces, but the home team struck in a dramatic final session to prevent India from moving into an even stronger position at the MCG. At stumps on the opening day, the visitors were 329 for four.
The Najafgarh da puttar was the cynosure, lashing 195 (312 minutes, 233 deliveries, 25x4, 5x6), but didn’t regret missing his first double century. “I did get out to a full toss (from Simon Katich), but such balls are to be hit. The team had an excellent day and I don’t regret that shot,” Sehwag said. Of course, he was thrice lucky — escaping a run out on four and being dropped twice (66 and 77) — but, then, that’s Sehwag. Enigmatic at times, brilliant on other occasions. That 130 of his runs came via fours and sixes is indicative of the contempt he showed.
Indeed, but for three wickets in the last session, Steve Waugh would have had one of the worst days of his captaincy — that too in his farewell appearance at such a premier centre.
Just goes to show that the 22-yard strip — a drop-in variety here — makes no allowance for emotion and sentiment.
“Sehwag is explosive, like Michael Slater used to be. The chance to get him will always be there but, if you don’t hold, you pay dearly,” former Australian captain Mark Taylor, an outstanding opener of his time, told The Telegraph. He added: “We’ve seen a fantastic innings.”
Trailing 0-1, Australia has already paid through the nose, despite Brett Lee unleashing thunderbolts in his comeback match. Incidentally, the rather colourful Indian presence in the 62,000-plus turnout was strong and lively.
Sehwag picked this career-best effort as his “most satisfying” and reacted somewhat sharply when somebody spoke of his technique. “I’m comfortable with the style I’ve adopted. I don’t see why I must change,” he responded with the rocket-like speed of his boundaries.
The third Test, in any case, has got off to a start which would be any marketing man’s dream: Besides Sehwag’s blazing innings, fellow-opener Akash Chopra had a gutsy 48 and the in-form Rahul Dravid contributed a polished 49.
Sachin Tendulkar failed yet again, while Sourav Ganguly was fortunate to stay unbeaten. With him is V.V.S. Laxman.
Earlier, Sourav sent a most positive signal by opting to bat on a wicket which promised much bounce. That on-the-frontfoot approach had to be carried forward by the Sehwags and the captain can’t complain.
Initially, the Indians’ body-language was discouraging but, as Sehwag pointed out, the excessive short-pitched stuff from Lee and Nathan Bracken actually made him and Chopra concentrate better.
While Sehwag was struck twice, Chopra got hit by Bracken. The blow, above his left temple, left him “dizzy”, though he decided not to retire. That, after all, would have played into Steve’s hands. The openers were unseparated till 141.
As everybody raised a toast to his fifth century, Sehwag himself saluted Chopra: “He showed lots of character and is the best partner I’ve had. It makes a difference if the other opener has such sound technique and the ability to concentrate through difficult times.”
Plenty of action remains and India won’t quite forget the Adelaide Oval, where Australia lost despite scoring 556 in innings No.1. “Now, we’ve got to build on a good day. If anything, we should play our normal game. The rest will fall in place,” said Sourav, who will be taking guard afresh with the second new ball only eight overs old.
Tomorrow’s opening session could enhance or mar reputations.