Rana Malook reviews the day 1 of the first Test match between India and England in Ahmedabad.
The ground may have been far from full, but those present made plenty of noise as England took to the field at Ahmedabad having lost the toss. I'd written a piece previously predicting a ruthless streak in India's intentions towards the touring England party, fair to say I wasn't far off. India had prepared a slow wicket making the England seamAnd so attack all but redundant.
Prior mostly took the ball near his ankles from England's quick bowlers as the first 13 overs of seam bowling went for 61 runs without the loss of a wicket. If this pitch was a car, I'd say it was a modified one made with private Sehwag number plates. Broad and Anderson were both all but neutralized in the early overs by Sehwag in cruise control.
Anderson in particular got some serious tap, going at 6 an over from his short spell of four overs. It took him just 45 balls to reach his half century. Anderson was replaced by Bresnan who's selection over Monty Panesar looked blunderous as the game wore on, Sehwag taking a particular liking to the Yorkshireman. In the 19th over he took the England bowler for 15 runs, bullying him out the attack on a graveyard of a pitch.
Cook politely asked the bowler to take a blow. And so India reached lunch at 120/0, motoring along at 5 an over for most of their innings. "Wonder how much they'll end up with by the end of the day" remarked a baffled Gower at the lunch break. He wasn't alone. We all knew this was a baptism of fire for Captain Cook, but no one including the England skipper could've predicted this blistering start.
Cook threw the ball back to Anderson after Lunch and it almost paid off. Sehwag faintly edged a misdirected delivery down leg side from Anderson. Prior was unable to take the difficult chance. In the next over from Swann the England wicket keeper turned villain again giving Gambhir a reprieve, this time with a fumbled stumping chance. Luckily for Prior Gambhir's demise came shortly afterwards.
Swann had been the only bright spark for England up until this point, and deserved his wicket. The Indian opener went back to a full pitched arm ball delivery from Swann losing his off stump in the process, India were 134/1. This brought Pujara playing in only his 6th Test match to the crease, despite pressure of the situation he showed a surprising maturity and looked more comfortable against Swann than Gambhir.
Sehwag meanwhile was going about his business unperturbed at the other end, reaching his 23rd century for India in only 90 balls. It was turning out to be one of those brutal innings that give opposing captains nightmares. With Pujara's help the score moved swiftly onto 224 before Cook's Sehwag nightmare finally came to an end. Swann was England's wicket taker once more, enticing Sehwag into a false sweep shot with a well flighted delivery that pitched outside off stump and spun through Sehwag's defense, penetrating the stumps.
They say one brings two and indeed it did as Tendulkar followed soon afterwards lofting a well flighted delivery from Swann down Patel's throat at long on. The brilliance of Sehwag's innings was then put into context as Pujara and Kohli began slowly began building a partnership at a more pedestrian run rate. By the time the tea interval arrived India had reached 250/3, Pujara progressing past his half century finishing with a respectable 68 not out.
After tea Swann continued to toil away at one end asking probing questions on a consistent basis. The pitch by this time had begun deteriorating as forecast by many, not that Swann was complaining.
With more regularity deliveries began turning sharply with inconsistent bounce and Kohli succumb to one such delivery. India's number 5 watched in disbelief as a Swann delivery pitched way outside off stump leaving a puff of dust in its wake before turning and bouncing sharply taking the middle stump. India's spinners no doubt were watching with a different emotion, glee.
Exactly a year after leaving the game due to illness Yuvraj Singh returned to the test fold, arriving at the crease with India at 283/4. Watchfully and patiently he maneuvered through a tricky passage of play with Swann applying the pressure. With Pujara virtually ground to a halt with his run rate, England had recovered well after the Sehwag storm earlier in the day.
Despite the consolidation period after tea however India finished the day on a high with Pujara driving a half volley from Broad for four, finishing proceedings with India on 323/4. The 24 year old finished on 98 not out and whilst all the post match praise will revolve around Sehwag, rightly so, Pujara's contribution cannot be overlooked.
He occupied the crease well and anchored the innings with Dravid like composure and concentration. From an England point of view Monty Panesar's omission could cost them dearly. The bowling figures from day 1 suggest as much. The seam attack of Broad, Anderson and Bresnan returned mediocre figures of 44-4-193-0, whilst Swann took 4 wickets in his 32 overs giving away only 85 runs.
With Compton on debut, Bell distracted by personal events back home and Cook under pressures from his new responsibilities, it could fall on Pieterson's shoulders once more the responsibility to score big runs. Whilst he has the ability, the pitch will ultimately play the final hand. India will be looking to push towards the tally of 500 on day two with a view to bowling England out twice with two specialist spinners Ashwin and Ojha in the side.
England are no push overs these days, but Bresnan's inclusion in the side means they might well have brought one knife too many to a gunfight.
image: © snappersan