It was not Ghaziabad, it was Ahmedabad. The opposition was not Uttar Pradesh, it was England. But those geographical names don't matter when the man in charge of the compass is Virender Sehwag. The Indian opener sticks to his mantra of 'my way or the highway' and it once again paid him on Thursday, when he buried all doubts over his form with his 23rd Test century.
From the time he started to the time he was bowled for a run-a-ball 117 in the afternoon session, Sehwag showed that he was aware – aware that it had been 30 innings and close to two years since his last Test century. His first three runs came in nine balls but a flicked boundary off the tenth changed Sehwag’s body language, which had fingers pointed at it during the ICC World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka. He was a different batsman from that point on, a Nawab in every sense, who got what he desired.
A little room, and the characteristic cut was out. Slightly fuller and the four-wheel drives threaded the field with ease. If the ball was on his pads, Sehwag picked it with ease to convert those drifters into boundaries. But in that aggression was an even mix of caution. His first fifty, characteristically for Sehwag, came at better than run a ball – 45 to be precise. The point to be noted, uncharacteristically this time, was that just two aerial strokes featured in that half-century.
The Indian opener stuck to his mantra of 'my way or the highway' to silence the critics with his 23rd Test century in the first Test against England.
But the slowness of the track was to Sehwag’s liking. He had enough time to rock back or plant his foot forward and hit through the line. Tim Bresnan discovered that when Sehwag took him for 15 runs in an over, including the only six of his innings – a straight hit over long-on. At one point it looked like Sehwag would reach three figures before lunch, but Gautam Gambhir dropped anchor at the other end to play for the break.
The only chance for England to come back and dislodge the 100-plus opening stand was to strike early after lunch, and they almost did. Sehwag tried to flick James Anderson, but the ball took an edge, only to see a stretching Matt Prior grass a left-handed half-chance. Sehwag was on 80 then and didn’t take any chance until he touched his century. That showed how much three figures meant to him, albeit it came in batting-friendly home conditions.
Gambhir and Sehwag's 11th century stand – the most for India in Tests surpassing Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan's 10 – was ended by England's only wicket-taker of the day, Graeme Swann, who bowled Gambhir and then went on to account for Sehwag.
Sehwag got to his century in 90 balls. By then, it seemed, he had made up his mind to try and last the day. But 27 balls later, having scored a run-a-ball 117 including 15 fours and a six, Sehwag was foxed by the wily Swann. The England offspinner beat an attempted sweep to bowl the centurion and bring England back in the match.
Sehwag, though, had done the job by then – for his team and himself. India had got the start they planned for and Sehwag answered his critics in the best possible manner. He is still India's best bet at the top of the order.