AHMEDABAD, Nov 15 (PTI): Virender Sehwag cracked his first Test century in more than two years as India came up with a solid batting display to take control of the first cricket Test against England here today.
Sehwag, who has been woefully out of form for long, notched up his 23rd Test century with a run-a-ball 117, while Cheteshwar Pujara was just two runs short of his ton as the hosts cruised to 323 for four at close on the opening day.
Giving Pujara company was comeback man Yuvraj Singh, who was batting on 24, on a dry Sardar Patel track which has already shown signs of assisting the slow bowlers.
Off-spinner Graeme Swann did the damage for the visitors, scalping all the four wickets that fell today, and pegged India back to some extent after the roaring start Sehwag provided to the team.
Sachin Tendulkar (13) and Virat Kohli (19) could not capitalise on the 134-run partnership for the first wicket between Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir (45).
Opener Sehwag, playing his 99th Test, blasted 16 fours and a six in his usual belligerent fashion, helping him to his first century since November, 2010.
He dominated the rival bowling attack after the hosts opted to bat on a bone-dry pitch, offering low bounce and some turn.
Sehwag was given good support by Gambhir who scored his runs in 111 balls and Pujara, who was closing in on his second Test century after batting watchfully for almost four hours and facing 181 balls. He hit 13 fours.
Pujara and Yuvraj saw off the new ball till close after offie Swann turned around the visitors’ fortunes by sending back Gambhir and then Sehwag, Tendulkar and Kohli in quick succession.
The 34-year-old Sehwag batted for 209 minutes before being bowled by Swann while trying to go for a slog-sweep from outside the off.
This was his second century against England, reaching the mark thirty minutes to tea. And apart from Sehwag, only Pujara could play Swann with some ease.
Apart from his century partnership runs with Gambhir, who batted for 127 minutes and struck four fours, Sehwag added 90 runs for the second wicket with Pujara, who batted for close to two sessions to remain unbeaten.
Swann, easily the standout bowler for England on a track offering turn, spun the visitors back into the game half an hour before tea with the dismissals of Sehwag and Tendulkar, who entered his 24th year in international cricket today.
Swann, who had dismissed Gambhir early in the session, led the visitors’ fightback in an excellent post-lunch second spell of 4-0-11-2.
Later, the off-spinner, who needed eight wickets before the game to reach the 200 mark, deceived Kohli who was dropped by Jonathan Trott at slip off the same bowler when on four. He bowled the batsman through the gate with a sharply spinning ball as he stretched forward to defend.
England took the second new ball in the 87th over but could not get another breakthrough before stumps. The visitors probably missed the left-arm spin of Monty Panesar who was not included in the playing 11 as they preferred to go in with three pacers.
Earlier, thanks largely to Sehwag, who came into the game after scoring a century in the Ranji Trophy game against UP, the hosts scored 120 without losing a wicket in the first session and added another 130 runs in the second for the loss of the two openers and Tendulkar.
Swann, who took Gambhir’s wicket from the pavilion end, switched ends to send back Sehwag and Tendulkar in the space of 22 balls. He dismissed Kohli too from the same end.
Sehwag and Tendulkar were both out to attacking shots, the latter hitting it straight to Samit Patel, while Kohli was beaten by the turn.
After a fruitless first session, England struck early after lunch when Swann bowled Gambhir in the second over.
The left-hander had been fortunate a few balls earlier against the same bowler when wicketkeeper Matt Prior missed a leg side stumping chance.
However Sehwag batted in in his inimitable fashion, with Pujara stoutly defending at the other end.
Pujara bided his time after starting off with a fine extra cover drive. He was fortunate early on as his flick was mistimed and the ballooning ball fell just short of Anderson at mid-on. The Saurashtra batsman was cautious after the early escape and compiled his runs brick by brick.
After almost giving a return catch to Swann three short of his ton, Sehwag reached the three-figure by lofting the bowler over mid-on for a single. It took him only 90 balls and 163 minutes.
Most of Sehwag’s boundaries were scored in the arc between cover and third man.
It was Sehwag’s first century since making 173 at this ground against New Zealand, and his second versus England in eleven years.
The visitors conceded 70 runs in the first hour after lunch, but could add only 99 runs in 39.5 overs after the opener was dismissed.
At lunch, Sehwag was unbeaten on 79 off 66 balls, while Gambhir was unconquered on 37 in 103 balls as India adjourned for the interval at 120 for no loss.
The Delhi opening duo, who had failed to fire in unison for long, stitched their 11th century stand and their first in nearly two years following the stand of 137 at Centurion Park in December, 2010.
The openers started a tad shakily with Gambhir inside edging Anderson close to his stumps for the first of his three boundaries and Sehwag being almost bowled by Stuart Broad when attempting an expansive drive.
India 1st innings: Gautam Gambhir b Swann 45, Virender Sehwag b Swann 117, Cheteshwar Pujara batting 98, Sachin Tendulkar c Patel b Swann 13, Virat Kohli b Swann 19, Yuvraj Singh batting 24. Extras: (B-1, LB-5, NB-1) 7. Total: (For 4 wkts; 58 overs) 323. Fall of wickets: 1-134, 2-224, 3-250, 4-283. Bowling: James Anderson 17-3-66-10, Stuart Broad 17-1-71-0, Tim Bresnan 10-0-56-0, Graeme Swann 32-5-85-4, Samit Patel 14-2-39-0.