Sehwag-Gambhir centuries put India on highway to big total (Lead)

Kanpur, Nov 24 ( Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir cashed in on winning a good toss by slamming explosive centuries to put India in command by stumps on the opening day of the second cricket Test against Sri Lanka at the Green Park here Tuesday.

Openers Sehwag (131) and Gautam Gambhir (167) laid the foundation for an imposing total with their 233-run stand and India ended the day at 417 for the loss of two wickets — India’s highest score in a day’s play in Tests, surpassing 385 in the previous Test at Ahmedabad.

With Rahul Dravid (85), looking set for back-to-back centuries, and Sachin Tendulkar (22) digging in, the Indians are well placed to bat the Sri Lankans out of the Test.

Sehwag and Gambhir launched a blistering onslaught on the spinners after the first hour of play, adding 233 runs in 41.2 overs, scoring close to six runs per over.

Sehwag, whose whirlwind 122-ball knock included 18 fours and two sixes, broke the shackles in the second hour of the morning session, playing with his belligerent style and clobbering the Sri Lankan attack which included all three top-class spinners, Muttiah Muralitharan, mystery spinner Ajantha Mendis — who came in place of injured Dammika Prasad — and Rangana Herath.

Sri Lanka’s ploy of playing three spinners backfired as they wilted under the onslaught of the Indian openers and their figures would not have done justice even in a Twenty20 game.

Sri Lanka began on the wrong foot as Sehwag was dropped in the first over of Chanaka Welegedara. The edge of a customary Sehwag slash resulted in a straightforward catch to first slip Mahela Jayawerdene, but the ball popped out of grasp as a diving wicketkeeper Prasanna Jayawardene distracted his focus.

The slice of luck was enough for the opener to settle down playing straight, cutting off his horizontal shots. Gambhir played his part in keeping him off Welegedara.

That was only a brief lull before Sehwag opened up. After gauging the pace of the wicket and carefully negotiating young left-arm seamer Welegedara’s angling deliveries in the first hour, he was his usual stroking self.

Only 39 runs were scored off 12 overs in the first hour and then the flood gates opened as Sehwag was in full flow. He and Gambhir blasted 92 runs in the next 14 overs and made the Sri Lankans rue the dropped catch. India raced to 131 by lunch, the spinners accounting for 73 runs in just nine overs. Mendis was punished the most — 42 runs in five overs.

Sehwag was even more punishing on resumption. He smashed the ball to all corners of the park. The scoreboard moved at breakneck speed.

Muralitharan bore the brunt in the second session as Sehwag picked on the spin king for special treatment. Sehwag raced to his 16th Test century off just 98 balls with 13 fours and two sixes. And Muralitharan ended the whirlwind knock, getting him caught by Tillakaratne Dilshan at extra-cover.

But there was no respite for the visitors.

Gambhir, who has been scoring centuries by rote, and Dravid joined forces to maintain the run flow.

Gambhir, a model of consistency, perfectly blended his aggressive streak with sound temperament to score his eighth Test century, seventh in nine Tests, four of them coming on the trot in successive Tests.

Such was the pace of the game that at tea India reached 307 for one.

The left hander added 139 runs with Dravid before Muralitharan dismissed him, diving to his right to come up with a one-handed catch. Gambhir’s 215-ball knock included 15 fours.

Dravid, who pulled India out of trouble in the Ahmedabad Test, continues to bat freely. He hit eight fours.

Muralitharan’s two wickets came at a cost of 100 runs in 18 overs. Angelo Mathews was the only bowler to command some respect, conceding 38 runs in 14 overs.