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Sehwag, Dravid run-riot

By Prem Panicker
Last updated on: January 16, 2006 18:21 IST
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There are times, in the life of a reporter, when he confronts something so enormous, that he is tempted to just shrug and say, look, sorry, but I don't have the words to adequately describe this.

Sometimes it is tragedy, so complete it beggars belief. At other times, it is triumph so enormous, we didn't invent words for it because we never thought we would need them.

On day two of the first Test, when words failed in their task of summing up what happened, I had recourse to a slew of statistics to make the points that needed making. Today, even statistics fail -- yet, what else is there?

Try some. On January 16, 1956, Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy walked out to open India's innings, at the Corporation Stadium ground in Chennai, against New Zealand. That evening, they walked back, unconquered, with the score reading 234. When they were finally separated, the board read 413/1. Between them, they faced 997 deliveries, scored 404 runs off the bat, hit 33 boundaries in all.

Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid -- the latter opening the innings by default -- have thus far scored 374 runs off the bat (in a team total of 403/0) off just 462 deliveries, with 65 fours and one six, at a run rate of 5.37. And are now three boundary hits away from breaking a record that has endured for 50 years and 10 days.

What can you say?

For two days, we celebrated batsmanship of a high caliber: the composed class of Younis Khan, the lazy elegance of Mohammad Yousuf, the manic destructiveness of Shahid Afridi, the seemingly unhurried but equally manic run-scoring of Kamran Akmal. And we thought that between them, those four had paraded all there is to see in the art of batsmanship. And then these two came out, and topped all that we had seen thus far.

Statisticians will by now be going nuts trying to corral all the records this partnership has broken, into one composite piece, so I won't go there. Instead, I'll try to summarize the story of the day with two, maybe three, vignettes.

This morning, day 4, Sehwag -- in a first session that lasted all of two overs -- had taken all of four deliveries to get to his century (in the process breaking a record for the fastest Test hundred by an Indian). And in typical fashion, he had done it with a four. That was in over number 30. Fast forward to over number 58. The first ball. Sehwag let it come on to him. Then he let it go past him. And carved it, late as you like, to third man for four. The bowler, Rana Naved, went around the wicket -- and this time, to a ball angled across and on off, Sehwag shimmied a little to make room and blasted it inside out over cover. Next ball -- and this time Sehwag took a half step towards the ball as it angled across him, and blasted it through cover point for four. Ball four, fuller in length -- and Sehwag, perhaps bored with being inventive, stepped forward into an immaculate cover drive. Ball five -- short, lifting, the upper cut never mind the fielder placed just for that shot, one run, and the second fastest double century in Test history is his.

One of the first to run up and congratulate him was Younis Khan -- the man who, two days earlier, had agonized his way through the 190s, and been tragically run out one shy of the double hundred.

Another vignette, again from Sehwag, this time from over number 71. Shahid Afridi -- like Danish Kaneria for most of his spell -- had taken to going round the wicket, trying to angle into the rough, hoping that from the changed angle, he could make something happen during a phase where a dot ball, from the bowler's point of view, was 'making something happen'. Ball three, quicker delivery zipping across the stumps -- and Sehwag just stood there watching, moving after the ball was past him to tap the ball down to third man for four, beating both the keeper and the waiting slip. Spectacular, said the commentators, if a bit chancy.

Next ball, same angle, a touch wider and quicker – and Sehwag did it again, this time beating the slip to the other side. As that second four raced to the third man fence, Shahid Afridi stood at the end of his bowling run, winced, shook his head, and walked slowly back to the crease. From a man who had bludgeoned the Indian bowlers into submission, it was an eloquent gesture.

And the final vignette, from Rahul Dravid. Shoaib Malik, bowling over number 64; ball one is fractionally outside off, and the batsman rocks back to crash the cut through point. Ball number three, on middle and swept -- to fine leg, for the four that brought up his 21st Test century. The next ball, just short, and flicked through midwicket in celebration. From a batsman known to be more nervous than most when in his nineties, that sequence was as emphatic a statement as they come.

In Brisbane, when India seemed down and out, then captain Sourav Ganguly had weighed in with a century that defined the series. Here, Dravid's knock, even more than Sehwag's (after all, you expect mayhem from Sehwag, if he stays out there long enough), was as crucial and, potentially, as series-defining as that other effort.

What was remarkable about the duet between these two was the focus. From the moment they walked out to bat, and through the umpteen interruptions they have suffered through, they were relentless. Following the battering the Indian bowlers had taken, it was important -- as much to restore their bowlers' self-belief, as to send a message out to the opposition -- that the team mounted a strong reply. The captain and vice captain, fittingly, went one better -- they were ruthless in their demolition, batting in a fashion that can erode the collective confidence.

Pakistan, to give credit where due, tried with everything they had -- in the penultimate over before the premature close, Mohammad Sami was still snarling at Sehwag with sufficient venom to cause the batsman to respond and, a ball later, to have a word with the umpire. Afridi and Kaneria made the ball spin and bounce and turn; Shoaib Malik bowled with impressive control for the most part.

And none tried harder than Shoaib Akthar -- each of his spells was an essay in attempting the impossible. He bowled at a furious pace; he tried every variation he had, and then some. In the period shortly before tea, he almost had Sehwag when he produced a fast off break, tweaking the ball and giving it the sort of revs Harbhajan Singh would have enjoyed, and forcing Sehwag to prod at it; the push carried the ball back down the track, only to fall an agonizing foot in front of the bowler who, judging by the way he rushed forward as he completed the delivery, anticipated the catch.

It was a classic contest, between a born-again fast bowler hell bent on breaking through against the odds, and two batsmen who were in no mood to give up. It was a pity so pitifully few turned up to witness it.

At close – more accurately, when play was called off for the day, with 40 of the mandated overs left unbowled -- India had made 403/0 at a stunning 5.37; this, from a side notoriously prone to buckling under when confronted with an overlarge total. In 47 overs, the two overnight not outs had added a further 258 runs to the team total. Sehwag – who, throughout the day, favored a ginger right ankle he had twisted while playing volleyball the previous evening -- had scored 151 runs off 151 deliveries with a scarcely credible 26 boundaries and one six. And Dravid had made 91 off 143 deliveries with 14 fours of his own.

Amazingly, given the team total in excess of 400, the second new ball has not even come due yet. Just another scarcely credible factoid, in a day best left to statisticians to summarize.

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Prem Panicker

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