| Virender Sehwag after reaching his third Test century on Day I of the first Test against the West Indies in Mumbai Wednesday. Picture by Vikas Khot
Mumbai, Oct.9: Regular visits to the church, interacting with pastors... Carl Hooper is comfortable with all that and more. Just as well, for the West Indies captain must now quickly pray to the “Good Lord” for divine intervention at the Wankhede.
Indeed, a double assault proved too much as Virender Sehwag and the humidity, in exactly that order, really did the visitors in. It didn’t help, either, that Hooper has an ordinary attack. Actually, there were moments on Day-I of the first Test (for the three-match Exide Cup) when it seemed a lowly-rated Kanga League side had taken the field.
Frankly, seeing nine bowlers — quite a few of them absolute part-timers — on the very opening day of a series was pathetic. If that was a poor advertisement for West Indies cricket, the frustratingly slow “relaid” wicket, too, wasn’t the ideal promo for either the curator or the Board’s committee for grounds and pitches.
It was, essentially, a huge mismatch and Sehwag made the most, posting a career-best 147 (282 minutes, 207 balls, 24x4, 3x6) and starring in a record first-wicket partnership with Sanjay Bangar. The pair, which came together for the first time at Headingley (late August), collaborated 201 in a shade beyond 62 overs.
In fact, Sehwag and Bangar went well past the previous highest, 153 between Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan, in the 1978-79 series. Incidentally, that also was scripted at the Wankhede.
India’s newest opening ‘firm’ closed for the innings when Bangar (55 in 262 minutes, 187 deliveries, 4x4, 1x6) flicked Mervyn Dillon straight to Ramnaresh Sarwan. Sehwag himself departed soon enough, confirming that fine partnerships do end in twos.
Sehwag, who improved on the 105 in Bloemfontein (debut) and 106 at Trent Bridge, remarked he played his “normal game”. That, in effect, meant smashing the West Indies to all corners. Specifically, Sehwag zoomed to the second fifty in 63 minutes and off just 54 balls, reaching his first hundred at home in 181 minutes and 139 deliveries.
Pedro Collins and his teammates were left regretting the early wake-up call — via a bouncer which didn’t really climb.
“It’s nice that I’m in form... Hundred karne se mujhe khushi aur team ko faida hai,” Sehwag pointed out, not showing any effect of having batted during the day’s most uncomfortable phase. Appropriately, he saluted Bangar for “blocking one end” and allowing him to play shots “khul ke”.
Sehwag, who is constantly reminded by both captain Sourav Ganguly and coach John Wright that he is worth real big scores, admitted he wanted to stay till stumps. That wish remained unfulfilled as an attempted glance was superbly taken by Ridley Jacobs. Sehwag, too, became a Dillon victim.
Wicket-to-wicket, Dillon conceded one run in 16 balls (third spell).
Predictably, Sehwag was merciless on the off-side — 70 of his first 100 runs, for example, came in that area — and some of his drives would have made even Sir Viv Richards envious. While his timing should prove an excellent advertisement for any watch-maker, Sehwag also has an exceptionally quick eye.
Above all, the ‘promotee’ opener is hungry for runs. He’s quite a handful.
With Sehwag blazing as furiously as a Kalashnikov, one tended to forget Bangar’s existence. Yet, once again, the Mumbai-based Railways’ allrounder showed he has a role in this star-studded line-up.
“I’m comfortable playing sheet anchor... Also, I suppose our contrasting styles are to the team’s benefit. It’s not that I can’t play shots but, when Sehwag is in such great nick, my job is to not give it away at the other end,” Bangar said.
Asked if he had now cemented his place, Bangar quickly responded with “nothing can be taken for granted”. That was a typical answer and it will be disappointing if his excellent attitude doesn’t take him some distance, at least.
The Indians scored 75, 100 and 103, respectively, in the three sessions — each having two breaks for drinks instead of the customary one — and while a 300-plus total would have looked far better, the conditions (as also the loss of two wickets rather quickly) checked the advance.
Moreover, top gun Sachin Tendulkar didn’t look at his best. Though the TV replays weren’t conclusive on whether Chris Gayle (in slips) let go an opportunity off Sarwan minutes before stumps, Jacobs did drop Sachin on 18, as he tried to sweep Ryan Hinds fine.
At close, Sachin was on 35 to Rahul ‘Mr Consistent’ Dravid’s 28. The vice-captain is looking for his fourth hundred in as many innings and, so, one prayer may not suffice for Hooper.
Inexplicably, the captain didn’t reintroduce Collins as soon as Sachin took guard — he remembered him after ten overs and, in any case, Collins had just one go in that spell. Collins, it may be recalled, had troubled Sachin in the West Indies.
Amazingly, despite having nothing to show, West Indies coach Roger Harper wasn’t critical of his bowlers. Despite the width they offered, despite the thoroughly dispirited effort. Talking to The Telegraph, he maintained: “I don’t think our guys bowled badly... It’s just that, collectively, we weren’t right up there... Come Thursday and we will have to lift our game.”
Four not three
Meanwhile, the Indians (under Sourav) have won the last four series at home, not three as reported in these columns Wednesday. This sequence began with the 2000-2001 win versus Zimbabwe. More than anything else, it makes the West Indies’ task that much tougher.