This was the first morning of the first Test of an extremely important series for India. Last year, in England, they had lost a four-Test series 4-0, and in the process lost their number one ranking in Test cricket. England were in India now.
Having won the toss and opted to bat, India hoped for a good start. This hadn’t happened for a while. Since Centurion in December 2010, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had gone 21 Test innings without a century partnership. Sehwag hadn’t scored a century since the last time he had played in Ahmedabad, against New Zealand over two years ago.That Bresnan delivery wasn’t the first to keep low that morning. It wasn’t exactly a difficult wicket to bat on, but it was the sort of wicket on which runs would have to be eked out with a patient, no-frills approach. And yet, India were 92 for no loss. Sehwag was on 58, from 47 balls. The next ball, he launched Bresnan over midwicket for six. India went to lunch at 120 for no loss. Sehwag brought up his hundred 11 overs later, lofting Graeme Swann over mid on for four.
It had been, at the same time, a typical Sehwag innings, and an atypical one. He scored at a run a ball, and his wagon wheel was heavily populated with boundaries square on the off side. But this wasn’t the wicket for his slashes through point and his punches on the up. The ball wasn’t coming onto his bat; often, it stopped on him or kept low, and short cover crouched in front of him, waiting for anything uppish. The genius of Sehwag isn’t that he goes out and plays his `natural game’ regardless of conditions. It instead lies in the way he can curb those instincts and still score as freely as ever. Sehwag put away the slash and the on-the-up punch. He waited on the ball instead, and used the pace of the English seamers to steer the ball wide of point or dab it wide of slip, leaving Alastair Cook clueless about where to place his third man.
This being Sehwag, England had plenty of fielders on the ropes right through his innings; he cheerfully milked the bowling for singles, 40 in all. When Swann dismissed him with an off break that sneaked under an attempted sweep and knocked back off stump, Sehwag had scored 117 off 117 balls. India were 224 for two. The Test match was only halfway into its second session.
Already, the Motera strip had telltale diagonal scuff-marks at either end, from the bowlers’ follow-throughs. Low bounce had aided Swann in getting the first two Indian wickets. Sharp turn and uneven bounce would get him two more by the end of the day, as India ended the day at 323 for four. Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha must have eyed all this with interest from the dressing room. Thanks to Sehwag, they will bowl at England with a big total behind them and fielders crowding the bat.