From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.50 :: Dec. 12, 2009

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CRICKET / MUMBAI TEST

Highest score and highest ranking

Test cricket returned to Brabourne after 36 years and the occasion was made memorable by a high-octane and breath-taking innings of 293 from Virender Sehwag. The blistering effort, given its magnitude and influence, proved to be the difference between the two sides. S. Dinakar reports.

PICS: K.R. DEEPAK

At a venue steeped in history, India climbed to the top of the ICC Test ratings. Requiring a 2-0 series victory over the Sri Lankans, India’s comprehensive innings and 24-run victory in the third Test at the Brabourne Stadium was followed by scenes of celebrations.

Test cricket returned to Brabourne after 36 years and the occasion was made memorable by a high-octane and breath-taking innings of 293 from Virender Sehwag. The blistering effort, given its magnitude and influence, proved to be the difference between the two sides.

Although there was some assistance for the spinners on a wearing pitch, it was experienced left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan who bowled with heart and craft to scalp five victims in the Sri Lankan second innings. He bowled in the right areas, got the ball to dart into the right-hander from over-the-wicket, angled it across and took the ball away from the left-handers with great precision. He also hustled the batsmen with his line and lift from round-the-wicket.

Sreesanth operated with zest too, firing in his yorkers, achieving both conventional and reverse swing and bowling effective short-pitched deliveries.

The Indian spinners Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha bowled capably in some phases, but were ordinary in some others. Ojha, though, turned the ball sharply away from the right-hander — the spin was enhanced by flight and bounce — and got a few of his deliveries to straighten.

While the Sri Lankans were outplayed, they were also at the receiving end of a few ordinary umpiring decisions. Two of these verdicts led to the dismissals of the in-form Tillekeratne Dilshan in either innings.

“I do not know why the review system was not implemented in this series when the ICC has said it should be used in all series. It cost us about 500 runs and a few wickets,” said Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara at the end of it all.

Dilshan had powered his way to a typically strokeful hundred on Day One when he was adjudged caught bat-pad; the Sri Lankan’s willow was nowhere close to the ball. In the second innings, he was ruled out padding up. Replays showed the ball missing leg-stump by a fair distance.

Although all-rounder Angelo Mathews scored 99 — he was run-out when he tried to complete his maiden century — with slashes and powerful drives, Dilshan could have powered the side to a bigger total in the first innings.

Dilshan had been batting well on the first day when there was considerable turn and bounce for the spinners till the hour after lunch due to the freshness of the surface and the moisture in the wicket.

His dismissal hurt the Sri Lankans. So did the benefit of doubt to Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar when replays showed both batsmen to have been caught-behind and leg-before respectively.

To make matters worse, key batsmen Mahela Jayawardene and Thilan Samaraweera failed in both the innings. Captain Sangakkara made a brave 137 — his first century on Indian soil — with audacious strokeplay on both sides of the wicket but his team would have been better served by a weighty contribution in the first innings.

Sri Lanka needed to bat big in the first innings after winning the toss. A total of 393 could still have been competitive had not the Sri Lankans been blown away by the Sehwag blitz.

Sehwag’s innings was sensational. He was not just putting away loose deliveries but striking perfectly good balls to the fence. And he was not just hitting the ball but timing it through the gaps with perfection.

“We tried everything, different bowling combinations, different field placements but nothing worked for us,” Sangakkara conceded later.

While Sehwag’s hand-eye coordination and bat speed are astonishing against the pacemen, he is fleet-footed against the spinners. While there was some turn on the pitch on Day Two, Sehwag handled it well. He was waltzing down the track and either striking the ball through the open spaces, lofting over the in-field or clearing the fence.



Zaheer Khan... superb spell in the second innings.

“I am an entertainer, this is the way I bat,” said Sehwag. India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni felt, “Sehwag is a one-of-a-kind player. It works for him but will not work for the others.”

The manner in which Sehwag either danced to the pitch or played the ball late off the back-foot, harnessing the turn, displayed two different aspects of his game. His duel with Muralitharan was engaging. Sehwag was watching the hand closely and picking the length early.

When left-arm spinner Rangana Herath attempted negative tactics, bowling over-the-wicket with a packed on-side field, Sehwag opened up his stance, danced down and created room to carve the bowler inside-out over covers. This was inspired batting.

The Indian opener thumped the pacemen down the ground, through covers, point and mid-wicket. An on-drive off Nuwan Kulasekara scorched the turf. When left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara banged one in short, he was steered past the cordon; Sehwag was using the pace of the ball.

Given Sehwag’s proficiency in the region between third man and point, Sangakkara had sufficient protection, including a sweeper. Sehwag was still finding the fence.

He reached his 17th Test hundred and, like he does on most occasions, went for a big one. Sehwag has this ability to keep striking the ball ruthlessly without fatigue setting in or suffering a lapse in concentration.

He continued to pound the Sri Lankan bowling. His 200, arriving in a mere 168 balls, was the second quickest in Tests. This was a day when there was no stopping Sehwag. After his 221-run partnership with M. Vijay in 39.1 overs, Sehwag added 222 in 224 balls with Dravid in an unbeaten second-wicket stand at stumps. Sehwag dominated the association; Dravid wisely chose to play second fiddle.

Sehwag was unbeaten on 284 (239b, 40x4, 7x6) at stumps. And India ended the second day at 443 for one.

Despite India beginning its innings only after 36 minutes in the morning, it had registered its highest score in a day in Tests. And only legends Don Bradman and Walter Hammond had scored more than Sehwag’s 284 in a day.

This had been an eventful day for Sehwag as he had also gone past the 6000-run mark in Tests.

Spectators queued up around the stadium in the morning. The expectations were huge from Sehwag.

The usually belligerent opener was circumspect in the morning. Muralitharan went round the wicket. Sehwag, gradually opened out, cutting the off-spinner from middle stump. Moments later, silence reigned in the area that was filling up fast. Muralitharan’s teasing delivery of flight and dip evoked a miscued push from Sehwag; the off-spinner held on to the return catch on second attempt.

The crowd applauded Sehwag; his 293 had been a stirring effort by an uncluttered mind of a natural riding on his gifts. Sehwag walked back to a rousing ovation. What an innings!

“I am not disappointed at missing out on a triple century. How many batsmen get two triple hundreds and follow it up with a 293?” he asked.

Sehwag’s opening partner M. Vijay impressed. It would have not been easy for him to replace an in-form Gautam Gambhir for a crunch Test but the opener displayed wonderful temperament and technique.

Vijay is well-balanced in both defence and offence and precise footwork is an integral aspect of his batsmanship. His movement, both forward and back, were measured and he kept his eyes on the short pitched ball, swaying away from the line. He cover-drove beautifully, head still, feet to the pitch and with a lovely extension of his arms. He no more than pushed Muralitharan but the ball travelled to the cover fence; the timing was sweet.

The Sri Lankan spinners bowled better on the third day but there were useful half-centuries for India from senior batsmen Tendulkar and V. V. S. Laxman. And then, Dhoni (100 not out) took the game further away from Sri Lanka with a display of power-hitting in the second half of his innings. “His (Dhoni’s) innings was influential. It made things hard for us,” said Sangakkara.

India’s 726 for nine declared is its highest score in Tests. In the same Test, the team also attained its highest ranking in Tests.

THE SCORES

Third Test, Mumbai, December 2-6, 2009. India won by an innings and 24 runs.

Sri Lanka — 1st innings: T. Paranavitana c Dravid b Harbhajan 53; T. Dilshan c Vijay b Harbhajan 109; K. Sangakkara c Dhoni b Ojha 18; M. Jayawardene c Sehwag b Sreesanth 29; T. Samaraweera c Vijay b Harbhajan 1; A. Mathews (run out) 99; P. Jayawardene c Harbhajan b Ojha 43; N. Kulasekara c Dhoni b Zaheer 12; R. Herath c Dravid b Harbhajan 1; M. Muralitharan (not out) 4; C. Welegedara lbw b Ojha 8; Extras (b-4, lb-6, w-2, nb-4) 16. Total: 393.

Fall of wickets: 1-93, 2-128, 3-187, 4-188, 5-262, 6-329, 7-359, 8-362, 9-379.

India bowling: Zaheer 19-2-70-1; Sreesanth 16-1-82-1; Harbhajan 32-3-112-4; Ojha 23.4-1-101-3; Yuvraj 4-0-18-0.

India — 1st innings: M. Vijay lbw b Herath 87; V. Sehwag c & b Muralitharan 293; R. Dravid c P. Jayawardene b Welegedara 74; S. Tendulkar b Kulasekara 53; V. V. S. Laxman c Kulasekara b Muralitharan 62; Yuvraj Singh c Mathews b Herath 23; M. Dhoni (not out) 100; Harbhajan Singh b Muralitharan 1; Zaheer Khan c Kulasekara b Muralitharan 7; S. Sreesanth lbw b Herath 8; P. Ojha (not out) 5; Extras (lb-3, nb-10) 13. Total (for nine wkts., decl.) 726.

Fall of wickets: 1-221, 2-458, 3-487, 4-558, 5-591, 6-610, 7-615, 8-647, 9-670.

Sri Lanka bowling: Welegedara 30-3-131-1; Kulasekara 20-1-105-1; Herath 53.3-2-240-3; Muralitharan 51-4-195-4; Mathews 6-0-36-0; Dilshan 3-0-16-0.

Sri Lanka — 2nd innings: T. Paranavitana lbw b Sreesanth 54; T. Dilshan lbw b Harbhajan 16; K. Sangakkara c Dhoni b Zaheer 137; M. Jayawardene c Dhoni b Zaheer 12; T. Samaraweera c Laxman b Zaheer 0; A. Mathews c Dhoni b Ojha 5; P. Jayawardene lbw b Ojha 32; N. Kulasekara c Laxman b Zaheer 19; R. Herath c Ojha b Zaheer 3; M. Muralitharan c Dhoni b Harbhajan 14; C. Welegedara (not out) 0; Extras (b-12, lb-1, w-1, nb-3) 17. Total: 309.

Fall of wickets: 1-29, 2-119, 3-135, 4-137, 5-144, 6-208, 7-278, 8-282, 9-307.

India bowling: Harbhajan 34.4-5-80-2; Ojha 23-4-84-2; Zaheer 21-5-72-5; Sreesanth 13-4-36-1; Sehwag 9-2-24-0.



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