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Virender Sehwag shreds England's plans

Friday, 16 November 2012 - 8:33am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

Cook feels the pressures of captaincy as Indian opener hits rapid century before Swann limits the damage.

These Tests are being billed as the 'Revenge Series' by the sponsors and Virender Sehwag took his reprisal at the earliest opportunity in Ahmedabad yesterday (Thursday), smashing a whirlwind hundred off the same bowlers who had humiliated him a year earlier in England when India were whitewashed 4-0.

On a grassless feather-bed under a cloudless sky, conditions very different to a cloudy Edgbaston in 2010 where he got a pair, Sehwag laid waste to James Anderson and co with relish as India ruthlessly took control of the opening Test. The rate at which India scored, following Sehwag's 117 and a telling unbeaten 98 from Cheteshwar Pujara, and the way the bowlers' footholes have cut up as if it were a third-day pitch, suggests this match is already well advanced.

Sehwag had not scored a hundred for two years, his last being against New Zealand on this ground. Whether sparked by the familiarity of the surroundings or the inaccuracy of the bowlers, his muse returned with a vengeance as he carved, cut and generally shredded England's plans in an opening session that made the head spin as India lunched on 120 without loss.

England were strangely nervous after Alastair Cook lost the toss, with all the bowlers bar Anderson guilty of sending down full tosses, a sure sign that minds are aflutter. Only when he is batting does Cook's face not betray his emotions and the players would have sensed his duress, especially when Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir raced to a hundred-run partnership off 19.1 overs.

Not betraying emotion was a quality in which predecessors such as Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan excelled, their poker faces giving little away when in the field. Cook will learn but yesterday his plans were cast asunder and the panic showed. He did manage some damage limitation later on after Graeme Swann began to get among the wickets, but Test matches here tend to be decided on the last two days and England will have to bat extremely well in both innings to prevent their first-day profligacy from costing them dear.

Cook was unlucky perhaps to catch Sehwag on a good day when even giving him an inch outside the off stump resulted in a boundary. As England's seam bowlers gave him more than that nobody should have been surprised when he sped off at better than a run a ball, a pace which slowed after lunch when the bowlers finally tightened their line and Cook got his field right.

This was Sehwag's 99th Test and while that confers veteran status he came into this match under pressure. Perhaps because of that, he chose his moments to attack well, though Anderson and Stuart Broad were complicit with as poor an opening spell from them as anyone could remember. Sehwag also took a liking to Tim Bresnan, striking him for four and then a six, the latter lifted nonchalantly over long on to bring up India's hundred.

He was dropped by Matt Prior on 80 just after lunch, after he leg-glanced Anderson. It was not the only mistake made by Prior, who also missed a sharp stumping off Swann when Gambhir was lured down the pitch. Swann bowled him two balls later with a flatter, quicker one which Gambhir gave himself room to cut.

With Swann settling into a good rhythm and the pacemen finding reverse swing, Sehwag was slowed, though in doing so England took their eye off Pujara, who had already taken 87 off them in the second warm-up game.

Anderson, sacked from slip for this series in favour of Jonathan Trott, might have caught him when he was on eight after a leading edge off Bresnan eluded him at mid-on, but with the main stand as a backdrop, it looked like he was slow to sight it, moving forwards instead of backwards as the ball looped over him.

During their 90-run partnership Pujara outscored Sehwag, who slowed after bringing up his hundred with a lofted four off Swann. Whether fatigue took hold, he tried to mow Swann to the midwicket boundary soon after and was bowled. The wicket took Swann past Jim Laker's tally of 193, the previous best for England by an off-spinner. If Swann was proud it did not manifest itself as obviously as his dismissal of Sachin Tendulkar a few overs later, caught at deep midwicket by Samit Patel. Then, his roar of pleasure was discernible above the stunned silence of the 12,000-strong crowd.

It was a bizarre dismissal for Tendulkar, who was trying to dominate Swann when he holed out. Now 39, the Little Master has built a stellar career on minimising risk and treating balls on their merit. For some reason, he felt the need to change that here. His body position suggested he tried to hit to long on where there was no fielder, but the ball turned and skewed out to deep midwicket instead.

If that proved unpopular with the locals, so did Trott's catch that never was at slip, which TV replays revealed had actually been dropped. It was another clever piece of bowling by Swann, who forced Virat Kohli's cut shot to be edged to Trott's left, whereupon he made a diving attempt to catch it, coming up with the ball in his hands only after he had rolled over it.

Trott never claimed he had taken it cleanly, but it was disingenuous of team-mates to start patting him on the back as if he had caught it. When the replays came those claims looked farcical, the ball bouncing on the ground between his arms before being buried beneath him. It was another miss that did not cost England dear after Swann bowled Kohli through a yawning gate to take his fourth wicket.

With the pitch turning and set to do so even more over the coming days, many felt England should have played Monty Panesar in place of Patel, who rarely looked threatening in his 14 overs. Panesar is a fine bowler who might have done well here but England need to bat on this pitch as well and Patel, so far on tour, has been one of the batsmen in form.


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