Ahmedabad: Virender Sehwag cracked a blistering 117 while Cheteshwar Pujara compiled a stroke-filled unbeaten 98 as India dominated England’s bowlers to finish at 323 for 4 at the end of day one of the first Test here on Thursday.
After MS Dhoni opted to bat on a dry pitch, the tone for India’s domination was set by the openers, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, who laid the platform with a 134-run opening stand – their first century alliance in 20 innings and one that surpassed the record of ten between Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan. Sehwas was the aggressive partner on an abrasive surface where the ball regularly stopped and stayed low, cutting and driving his way to a half-century in 45 balls.
While Gambhir appeared anxious early on and was beaten on a couple of occasions outside the off stump, Sehwag opened up after a watchful start by cracking James Anderson for four. The floodgates had opened. Sehwag smashed three boundaries in Anderson's next over; one deftly cut to the third man boundary, the next steered between point and gully, and the third driven on the up through cover-point. Gambhir played second fiddle to Sehwag and pinched singles to keep the scorecard ticking. India reached 50 in the 12th over as Sehwag nudged Stuart Broad to deep square leg for a single.
England captain Alastair Cook introduced Graeme Swann in the 14th over, and both the openers played him with utmost discretion. Sehwag notched up his 33rd half-century in Test matches by picking up a single off Swann in the 18th over of the innings. The other bowlers he plundered, with Tim Bresnan baring the brunt of his ire. India’s 100 came up in the 20th as Sehwag drilled Swann to sweeper cover and it was his and Gambhir’s first century partnership since their 137-run stand at Centurion against South Africa in 2010-11.
England bowlers bowled a tight line in the last half hour before lunch as the run-rate dipped a bit. Sehwag played a reckless shot in the 25th over but got away, and proceeded to welcome Samit Pate into the attack by blasting his first ball to the deep midwicket boundary.
Resuming from 120 for 0, both Sehwag and Gambhir got a reprieve each soon after lunch. Matt Prior dropped Sehwag off Anderson in the first over after when the batsman half-heartedly glanced the ball down the leg side. In the next over, Swann drew Gambhir out of the crease by tossing the ball up but Prior couldn't collect the ball. However, Gambhir failed to build in his life and was bowled in the same over from Swann for 45.
Sehwag became discreet after he was dropped on 80, and relied on singles to inch closer to the hundred. He duly notched up his 23rd Test century, and second against England, by lofting Swann over mid-on in the 40th over of the innings.
Pujara didn't look in hurry yet surprisingly outpaced Sehwag in the second-wicket stand. He unfurled a string of splendid flicks, and looked at ease off the back foot as well. He played Swann superbly by coming down the track and hitting him through cover and extra cover and picked his variations and length perfectly with twinkling footwork. Pujara and Sehwag added 90 runs for the second, out of which Pujara's contribution was 55, before Swann cut through Sehwag's defence. Swann got lovely drift as he tossed the ball up, Sehwag attempted a sweep but couldn't make any contact. He made a run-a-ball 117 which included 15 boundaries and a one six.
Sachin Tendulkar, on the day he completed 23 years of international cricket, and Virat Kohli both failed to cash in. Tendulkar mistimed a lofted shot to deep midwicket for 13 and Kohli – after taking 30 balls to get off the mark – was bowled by Swann when he left a gaping hole between bat and pad.
That brought to the crease Yuvraj Singh in his first Test in over a year, and after a shaky start against Swann he played a couple firm boundaries. By stumps, Yuvraj was on 24 with Pujara two short of a century, having driven the final ball of the day for gorgeous four past extra-cover.