Ahmedabad: Virender Sehwag slammed a magnificent 173 while Rahul Dravid, too, hit a ton as India gained the upper hand in the first Test against New Zealand being played here at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera. At stumps on Day 1, India were comfortably placed at 329/3 with Sachin Tendulkar (13) and VVS Laxman (7) on the crease.
Electing to bat, India rode on Sehwag’s classy 22nd century and Dravid’s 30th ton to pile up an imposing 329 for three at close on the opening day.
Sehwag and Dravid (104) put on a record 237-run partnership for the second wicket against New Zealand to lay the platform for a mammoth first innings total on a batting friendly track at the Sardar Patel Stadium.
They eclipsed the previous record of 204 which stood in the name of Sunil Gavaskar and Surinder Amarnath in Auckland in 1976.
The hosts lost opener Gautam Gambhir (21) in the pre-lunch session but Sehwag and Dravid tormented the insipid New Zealand attack with a flurry of strokes to take India to a commanding position before being dismissed in quick succession at the fag end of the day.
Sachin Tendulkar (13), who needs just one more century to record the amazing feat of 50 Test tons, and the stylish VVS Laxman (7) were at the crease at stumps on a day which saw the hosts completely dominate the bowling.
The Kiwis compounded their misery by dropping as many as three catches with Sehwag being the beneficiary on two occasions – once when he was on 144 and then on 155.
With lot of batting yet to come, New Zealand would be pinning their hopes on the second new ball – taken soon after it was due when India were 310 for two – to restrict the
Indian first innings score to a reasonable level.
Sehwag’s innings was a blast typical of the Delhi daredevil as he cut loose against the New Zealand bowlers with a flourish, clobbering 24 boundaries and a six.
But for a knee injury, that forced him to use a runner after tea, Sehwag could have continued to blast his way.
Neither pace nor spin did anything to unsettle him before a loose prod, from the crease, saw him bowled through the gate by rival captain Daniel Vettori after tea.
Dravid, who joined Sehwag after the latter had strung a stand of 60 with Gautam Gambhir (21) for the first wicket, started very slowly, before opening out to slam his 30th century in his 145th Test.
To make matters worse, the visitors also dropped both the century-makers. Dravid was let off by wicket keeper Gareth Hopkins off the bowling of Jesse Ryder who had earlier accounted for Gambhir. The batsman was on 28 in a team score of 192 for one.
Sehwag was given two reprieves by the butter-fingered Kiwis. Off spinner Jeetan Patel, who took a lot of stick from the Delhi opener, dropped the dasher off his own bowling at 144. Eleven runs later substitute Martin Guptill floored a dolly at mid-on off debutant Kane Williamson.
In the morning, it was Sehwag who stole the show as he drove, cut and slashed his way to 87 not out, with 15 fours and off 84 balls, before lunch in a team score of 127 for one.
The swashbuckler was particularly harsh on Chris Martin, the pace spearhead, and off spinner Jeetan Patel by carting them around for boundaries with total disdain.
He slowed down a bit after the break when in the 90s but then opened out again by carting Vettori, who was the bowler who kept him quiet for the most, for two fours to race to his century in 111 balls.
Dravid, who inched his way to 12 in 51 balls before lunch, steadily grew in confidence and attacked in the post-lunch session that produced 116 runs in 32 overs as India reached 243 for one.
The century was Sehwag’s sixth, and first here, in just over a 12-month period and 13 Tests during which he and his idol Tendulkar have been the bulwarks of the Indian batting. It was also his second ton against the Kiwis.
The Delhi dasher had come into the match with five 100-plus and one 200-plus scores, aside from five other 50-plus knocks that also included a 99.
Debutant pacer Hamish Bennett and the seasoned Martin tried to unsettle Sehwag and Dravid with the short ball and the latter was also hit on the side of the helmet by the debutant after tea that needed medical attention.
But overall the Kiwis attack lacked teeth in conditions ideal for batting. The wickets of Sehwag and Dravid have given Kiwis some hope for the morrow.
After the dismissals of Sehwag and Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman ensured that there were no further setbacks till the close of play.
India had brought fit-again batsmen Laxman and Gambhir back into the team in place of Bangalore Test debutant Cheteshwar Pujara and centurion Murali Vijay.
But Ishant Sharma, who also was absent for the previous Test, was left out and S Sreesanth retained his place.
New Zealand capped 20-year-old batsman Williamson and the 23-year-old Bennett while leaving out experienced batsman Martin Guptill and fast bowler Tim Southee.