| Shoaib Akhtar reacts after colliding with Virender Sehwag in Multan on Sunday. Shoaib gave away 60 runs in 18 overs. (PTI)
Multan: Essentially, there were two talking points on the opening day of the first Test for the Samsung Cup: Virender Sehwag’s brilliant, career-best 228 not out and, of course, misreading of the wicket by both Pakistan and India.
Intriguingly, the groundstaff removed just about every blade of grass and, so, the Multan Cricket Stadium track had a totally different look from what was evident even two days ago. Yet, the teams picked only one specialist spinner — Anil Kumble and Saqlain Mushtaq, respectively.
With the wicket neither seaming nor presenting disconcerting bounce, and turning from Day I itself, Pakistan and India are bound to miss a second spinner. Now, they must make the best of a bad bargain.
“The playing XIs left me shocked... Pakistan have misread the track more... After all, spinners had a big say in both previous Tests (against Bangladesh) and the thinktank should have known what to expect. Moreover, it’s so hot...” a puzzled former Pakistan captain Intikhab Alam told The Telegraph.
[Incidentally, the conditions did ‘affect’ Sehwag and Shoaib Akhtar. In the afternoon, they featured in what seemed an unpleasant exchange. Later, however, Sehwag tried to dismiss that with “hum chutkule bol rahe the...”] Intikhab agreed that the pressure on Pakistan is going to increase with every run added to the overnight 356 for two — the third-highest single-day score by India overseas.
While Sehwag will be aiming for a historic triple, Sachin Tendulkar is going to work towards his maiden century in Pakistan, where he made his debut almost 15 years ago.
Sehwag, the toast of Indians across the globe, has already batted for 376 minutes and faced 271 balls (30x4, 5x6). Sachin, on the other hand, will resume on 60 (198 minutes, 144 deliveries, 9x4).
Generally seen as unconventional, Sehwag was a revelation on Sunday — indeed, often, it was pure conventional stuff as he timed beautifully and found the gaps disdainfully. That he cleared the boundary five times and collected 120 runs through fours (off the frontfoot and back, including a gem off Shoaib) is indicative of his authority.
Significantly, Sehwag’s first hundred came off 107 balls, and the 150 was touched in exactly 150 deliveries. He fell behind somewhat, simply because he changed gears to totally cut out anything impulsive.
Pakistan, obviously, are going to rue the ‘lives’ given on 68 (by Mohammed Sami off Saqlain) and 77 (by Saqlain off an infuriated Shoaib). The fielders, though, didn’t err when it came to opener Akash Chopra and stand-in captain Rahul Dravid.
Once again, Chopra got out after all the hard work. Once again, in the 40s. “I felt bad for him... He deserves a bigger score,” remarked Sehwag, who figured in a terrific 160-run partnership for the first wicket.
Dravid left early, pulling Sami into the assured hands of Yasir Hameed, but Sachin stepped in to push the bottomline towards ‘excellent’ at stumps, called 16 minutes behind schedule. The unseparated third-wicket partnership has been worth 183.
Saqlain did manage some bite, but no bowler had any impact. For Pakistan, that compounded the loss of the toss.
To speak of the XIs, Pakistan preferred Saqlain to the younger Danish Kaneria —apparently, coach Javed Miandad pressed for Saqlain’s comeback — and the Indians picked Lakshmipathy Balaji as Ajit Agarkar had a “calf muscle stiffness.”
The turnout, at its highest, wouldn’t have exceeded around 8,000.