India: Overs 6-10: 58/1; Tendulkar 19 off 28; Gambhir 3 off 8
England recalibrated its game plan and settled on a length on the short side and line of off and middle, looking to cramp Sehwag. The batsman though seemed quite happy to work the ball off the hips in front of or behind square.
Anderson tested his reflexes with a slow bouncer – one of those inventions geared to the shorter form of the game – and Sehwag parked himself on the back foot, waited for an age, and then smashed a forehand drive over the head of the mid on fielder posted midway back to the fence.
Shehzad’s first spell of 3-0-16-0 had been less than inspirational; Strauss took him off and brought on Tim Bresnan. What followed was fascinating – Bresnan went wide of the crease, bowled the very full length, and angled the ball into the base of off stump; Sehwag responded by moving onto the front foot and playing with some caution. Along came the sucker punch – the shorter ball outside off; Sehwag looked to open the bat and run it down through the vacant slips, only to see Matt Prior anticipate brilliantly, diving headlong to pull off a stunner and end the carnage (Sehwag 35 off 26; India 46/1).
Tendulkar, pretty much a spectator till that point, opened up in the 9th over, whipping Anderson off his pads in front of square, and following up with a shot of superlative skill – the ball was on middle; Tendulkar, aware that a backward square had been placed, waited for an age, played it impossibly late, and used supple wrists to guide the ball just to the right of that fielder for another four.
The odd ball shows signs of sticking in the wicket, causing it to slow down tantalizingly. If this behavior gets more pronounced as the day goes on, it could impact the timing of the stroke-players, more so when the ball goes soft.
India: Overs 1-5; 28/0 (Sehwag 22/15; Sachin 5/15)
Unlike the casinos of Las Vegas, Virender Sehwag actually gives you a chance – whether you take it or not is the question on which your fortunes turn.
In the first over of the Indian innings, he gave three. James Anderson started with one that moved away off the seam from the line of off stump; Viru drove in airy fashion; the ball flew off the edge and Graeme Swann, at second slip, was a fraction late getting out of his crouch – all he could do in the end was palm the ball to the third man boundary.
The third ball went the other way – angling in, then straightening off the seam. Sehwag got squared up; the ball flew off the thick outer edge tantalizingly close to an airborne Ian Bell at extra cover. And then, a ball later, Anderson got another one to straighten; again Sehwag got squared up trying to flick off his pads; this time, the leading edge caused the ball to loop over the head of the jumping bowler.
Three potential chances; none taken. You don’t expect turning points in the first over of a game – but this could be one; probably the most crucial one.
Sehwag’s first authentic shot came against Mohammad Shehzad, replacement for Stuart Broad. The length was fuller than Anderson’s, and the width outside off more pronounced; Sehwag parked himself on his leg stump and flowed his bat into line of the ball, hitting it along the deck to the extra cover fence.
At the other end, Sachin Tendulkar was patience personified. He stood at the other end for 11 of the first 12 balls; when he got strike, he went on the front foot to ease Anderson through cover for a brace, riding the bounce with ease; against Shehzad, he opted to move inside the line and play the bounce down off his hips, to the widish fine leg region for another brace.
Anderson got a bit of his own back in the 5th over, when he produced a gem: just back of length, perfect line on off, late movement away to beat the edge of a tentative bat. Strauss had two men catching in front, almost adjacent in the covers to cramp Sachin’s drives, and that was probably what caused the hesitant push. A ball later, Anderson got Sachin flicking only for the ball to fall just short of midwicket – but that brought Sehwag to face him, and a screaming cut through point followed by a delicate dab to third man put things back in perspective.
Contrasting styles, different techniques – that is the most fascinating aspect of a Tendulkar/Sewhag partnership. Neither batsman has fully settled in yet, but already there is a sense of the ominous about how they are finding their feet.
Toss and teams:
MS Dhoni did his team proud by winning a rare toss and opting to bat first -- a huge advantage, all things considered. Plus, he has two spinners, bringing Piyush Chawla in to partner Bajji -- and that again is pretty handy for a team bowling second. India will go in with the two seam, two spin attack everyone's been predicting since last Saturday -- which means Munaf will share the new ball with Zaheer, ahead of the spin twins Chawla and Bajji.
India: Tendulkar, Sehwag, Gambhir, Kohli, Yuvraj, Dhoni, Pathan, Harbhajan, Chawla, Zaheer, Munaf.
At the other end of the spectrum, Stuart Broad is out with some illness -- which is a bit of a blow for England. Broad's ability to hit the deck, keep it just short of driving length and lift the ball into the batsman, plus the movement he gets particularly with the older ball, would have been handy for England at either end of the innings.
England: Strauss, Pietersen, Trott, Bell, Collingwood, Prior, Yardy, Bresnan, Swann, Shahzad and Anderson.
Right, so we're set. Next update after the first five overs of the Indian innings.
We can talk of India's recent form in ODIs, and contrast that with England's 1-6 drubbing at the hands of an Australia that rose out of the Ashes. We can talk of India's power-packed top order, the middle order power players, and the game-changing potential of a Yusuf or a Bajji lower down. Or about Kevin Pietersen opening the batting and what an impact player he is. Or of how Graeme Swann has developed into the best off spinner in the world. We can talk of Zaheer Khan's abilities as the enforcer in this attack and his skills against left-handed openers in particular, or about Stuart Broad's ability to get bounce out of a sponge and how that will impact on the likes of Sehwag. Or of how Broad still wakes up with nightmares when the wind outside his bedroom window seems to be whispering 'Yuvraj'.
We can talk every which way, finding a statistic to answer another, a name in the England ranks to counter an Indian name and vice versa. We can talk ourselves to a standstill -- and finally, none of it will make an iota of difference.
This game is between two teams either of which can win -- and the factors that matter will not reflect in stat sheets. There is team composition, for instance: if India opts to go in with three seam and a solitary spinner, it will have handicapped itself; more so if India has to bowl second at the KSCA.
The toss will matter. Perhaps not as conclusively as it does at some other venues where winning the toss is worth a good 75 runs on the team scoresheet, but batting first is going to be easier on this track.
The wicket will be the same as the one India and Australia played on in the warm up game; it will have been watered and rolled in the interim, but there just hasn't been enough time for the wicket to radically change its nature. It will give value for money to those batsmen who know how to bat; it will be hell for those who plonk their front foot out, cross their fingers and swing, hoping. It will give bounce and some movement to seam bowlers, and turn and bounce for good spinners willing to use flight and loop and give the ball a rip.
But more than anything else, what will matter is will, and nerve. Both teams have impact players with bat and ball; the team that has more of its big players staying calm and focussed will win this one.
We'll be back, at 2.15, with another pre-game post on the toss and the teams; after that, it is the usual detailed 5-over updates. See you at the game.
While you wait, check out this piece by Ramchandra Guha in the Telegraph: a subjective list of the best Indian one day team of all time. Much about it for you to discuss and debate -- the names picked, the names omitted. But here's the thing: wouldn't you just kill to have a bowling attack that reads Kapil Dev, Zaheer Khan, Javagal Srinath, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, turning out at the KSCA today?