India have comprehensively trumped England in the first Test at Ahmedabad to set the tone for the series. While England were always going to find it tough in India, the home side had their fair share of problems and a number of questions to answer. With a convincing win under the belt, the Indians would move into the second Test a confident unit.
The Test match started off on a very positive note for the Indians with the opening partnership doing well. The form of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag was a cause of concern in the lead-up to the series as they hadn’t provided India a good start for quite some time. The pressure on both was immense, particularly when you consider the fact that the selectors had included two back-up openers in the squad. However, Sehwag produced a sparkling hundred – an effort that had shades of caution and his typical aggression. Gambhir, on the other hand, was sedate and looked keen to spend time in the middle.
Cheteshwar Pujara is moving from strength to strength and has carried on from where he left off against New Zealand. What is impressive is his hunger; he has made a habit of converting starts into big ones. This double hundred was a cool-headed knock as he anchored India’s innings. Graeme Swann was getting some purchase off the surface, but Pujara dealt with him magnificently well. In this transition era, people often talk about Virat Kohli leading the charge. However, Pujara has presented hope that the post-Rahul Dravid phase wouldn’t be as tough as one expected.
Yuvraj Singh’s comeback trail just gets better and better. Who would have thought he would be playing Test cricket in November when one saw him battling cancer early this year! Some felt that he was rushed into the T20 team, but since then he has proved everyone wrong with each passing step. His progression into First-Class cricket was fantastic and he has followed that up with a fifty in the Test match. The only thing Yuvraj would want to do is convert these fifties into big ones. If he has to cement his spot at No 6, he has to make his starts count.
The batsmen who didn’t get runs were Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Tendulkar looked in decent touch, but was perhaps too keen to get on with things. There has been a lot of talk surrounding his future in the game and he surely has a point to prove. The good thing is that he looked positive and a big knock may not be far away. On the other hand, it was a rare failure for Kohli in the first innings and he would be gutted by the failure. However, he batted at No 3 in the second innings and saw India through – something that would give him confidence going into the second Test.
Sometimes Dhoni’s tactics with the bat are baffling. In one-day cricket, he has shown the tendency to take it too late and then blast off. In his only essay in the Test match he scored only five off 37 balls. The Indian skipper is at his best when he is positive and in an attacking frame of mind. By being defensive, he gets bogged down.
The spinners played their part and used England’s weakness to their advantage. Pragyan Ojha, in particular, was the pick of the bowlers. His nine-wicket match haul was decisive for India as Pujara’s double ton. On the slow surface, he backed his strength and deceived the batsmen. His flight, in particular, was his main weapon as a number of batsmen were foxed in the air.
Ravichandran Ashwin was said to be India’s bowler with the mystery element, but he wasn’t very effective in the second innings. As one of the commentators pointed out, the surface at Ahmedabad was perhaps more suited to Ojha’s orthodox style as he bowls within his limitations. Sometimes, sticking to an orthodox game plan may reap more rewards than some mystery variations. Ashwin may have a better time in the coming Test matches. Ojha would want to build on this performance.
There wasn’t much in the track for the fast-bowlers – Umesh Yadav and Zaheer Khan. They made their contributions, even though it was a spinner dominated game. Zaheer broke the big opening stand in the second innings and bowled a good spell then. He also picked up the final wicket to end England’s challenge in the second innings. Yadav, too, contributed with two important strikes in the middle in the second essay, although he was lucky with both decisions going his way. The biggest positive for Yadav was that he was economical during the game, something he has struggled to maintain even in Test cricket.
India can look back and mark ticks in most boxes. It was a team-effort with two players in particular standing out. The caravan now moves to the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and it is imperative that India maintain the same level of intensity in the second Test. They shouldn’t allow England a sniff if they are to avenge their defeat of the summer of 2011.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_