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Viru & Pujara plunder runs

Virender Sehwag after reaching his century, on Thursday. (PTI)

Ahmedabad: Graeme Swann thrived on the Motera track just as a duck takes to water, but the England team as a whole, it appears, are nothing but a dead duck in the first Test, which began here on Thursday.

At the end of the day, the opening day that is, India’s 323 for four, after winning the toss, may not look to be the definitive score that could predict the outcome of the match. But the first day could serve as a mirror for the remaining four and that is the reason why one can safely assume a 1-0 scoreline in India’s favour when they go to Mumbai for the second game of the series, unless, of course, a Kevin Pietersen takes a liking for the pitch.

When two hounds fall short in hunting down the rabbit, it’s common sense to add a third. But England captain Alastair Cook showed the audacity of employing just one hunter while chasing the lion. Going with a lone spinner in Swann to demolish the Indian batting line-up, that too on an Indian pitch, is a certain shortcut to defeat. More so when your pace attack lacks the Glenn McGraths and the Wasim Akrams.

As two Indian batters — Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara — plundered runs, Cook must have wondered why he didn’t include Monty Panesar in his recipe.

While Sehwag’s run-a-ball 117, decorated with 15 boundaries and a six, ridiculed the gravity of Test cricket, Pujara’s unbeaten 98, off 181 balls and with 13 fours, must have pleased Rahul Dravid, who was present at the ground, as a commentator. The Sehwag way is no less entertaining than the Gangam style, but it was Pujara who, with a Dravid-like stance, caught the eye with his mature-yet-brisk run-making.

Apart from Pujara’s well-deserved century, the second day of the match also promises something special from Yuvraj Singh, who was at the crease on 24.

Swann, however, took the battle somewhat to the Indian camp, picking three wickets in the post-lunch session. He added another later to be the only wicket-taker of the day. Deceiving Gautam Gambhir (45) with one that skidded through, beating Sehwag with a flighted one, tempting Sachin Tendulkar into mistiming a lofted shot or turning it so much that Virat Kohli (19) wore a bamboozled look after his stumps were knocked down… Swann was super.

Pity that he didn’t have someone to play the supporting role. Samit Patel tried with his part-time left-arm spin, but that was never going to be enough. Also, Cook was very late in applying spin from both ends. When Swann and Patel started bowling in tandem, from the 73rd over, the English sun was almost lost in the horizon.

The Motera pitch, in the morning session, could have been used to prop up an advertisement for flat-screen televisions. No matter what the England bowlers tried, the wicket almost always had a poker-faced reaction. On such pitches, batting usually is a smooth drive on a seaside highway… It feels wonderful, it looks beautiful.

Even then, the iffy duo of Sehwag and Gambhir at times took reckless turns, with inside edges, tantalisingly close to the stumps, threatening to end the journey.

Sharing 134 runs for the first wicket, they frustrated the English bowling till lunch. This was their first century stand after almost two years — the last one was in the second innings of Centurion Test, against South Africa, in December 2010.

In the pre-lunch session, England’s bowling to the Indian batsmen was like desserts, sweet on the off-side and even sweeter on the leg-stump. James Anderson got thrashed for three consecutive boundaries, Tim Bresnan fared even worse, humiliated with two fours and a six in six balls of a Test match. Sehwag, hoisting his sail when the wind was fair, was the tormentor on both the occasions.

But not everything Indian clicked on the day.

Sachin completed 23 years in international cricket on Thursday. The landmark day, however, didn’t present a landmark innings for the icon’s millions of fans, and the 20,000-odd who were present at the ground, as the innings was cut short on 13.

So, with Swann on song, trust Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha to come up with twisters when the Englishmen pad up. The pitch already has brown spots and with more wear and tear, it should be a minefield.

Can England duck the danger?