If Zaheer Khan's middling return to competitive cricket on Wednesday dampened the enthusiasm of a vociferous crowd at Shimoga, they were more or less stunned into silence by the twin failures of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag on the second day of India A's four-day match against West Indies A on Thursday (October 3). Bhargav Bhatt continued the good work in the first half, collecting a career-best 7 for 113 to keep West Indies A down to 406. But India A lost big wickets in their reply, reaching 191 for 3 at stumps. (Day 2 highlights)
When the day began, all eyes were on the Delhi duo of Gambhir and Sehwag. Leon Johnson kept the crowd waiting, going from an overnight 36 to 91, falling with a century in touching distance.
Gambhir walked out to the middle with VA Jagadeesh, the compact Kerala opening batsman, but did not take first strike. Fidel Edwards had the new ball in hand, and bounded in from his long run-up, striving for pace, but lacking rhythm. In his first spell of four overs, Edwards raced past Zaheer's no-ball tally, overstepping nine times.
Jagadeesh was fluent from the moment he arrived at the crease, presenting the full face of the bat and punching past the bowler when the opportunity arose. Gambhir, in contrast, appeared to be a bundle of nerves, and was stuck on 0 for the longest time, only getting off the mark off the 19th ball faced. By the time he got under way, Gambhir had already been caught behind once, off Edwards, but was spared as the bowler had overstepped.
Pace gave way to spin, and Gambhir's attempt to release the pressure with a big shot came a cropper when the ball ballooned high into the air for Edwards to complete a good catch, running from mid-on to midwicket. Gambhir's 44-ball stay at the crease, which lasted 10 minutes more than an hour, yielded only 11 runs.
Veerasammy Permaul, who had accounted for Gambhir, varied his pace and flight cleverly, and it was the extra bounce he extracted that beat Cheteshwar Pujara's sweep shot, the resultant top-edge being easily held. As he walked off, Pujara was treated to the kind of experience that Rahul Dravid has endured all his life in Tests. Even before Pujara could reach the dressing-room, the crowd erupted, cheering and chanting as Sehwag crossed the boundary rope at 3.11pm.
Sehwag, who did not bother with a helmet, pulled his blue cap down over his head and walked confidently out, breaking stride briefly only to look up at the sun and give his eyes a chance to make the adjustment to the difference in light levels from the dressing-room to the middle.
The first ball from Permaul, spearing his left-arm spin in, was defended confidently. The next one kept a touch low, and Sehwag, who had gone back to defend, was beaten, but fortunately for the batsman the ball was outside the line of the stumps. The third delivery Sehwag faced skidded through, rapping the pad, eliciting an excited appeal that was easily turned down. A tuck off the hips for three got Sehwag going and when Permaul dropped short outside the off, he was punched sweetly off the back foot just behind point for a boundary. Just when it appeared as if Sehwag was setting himself up to make a case for batting at No. 4, he fell, lunging forward to Permaul to be beaten in the flight and smartly stumped.
Jagadeesh was a picture of serenity out in the middle despite the arrival and departure of Test batsmen in quick succession. The key to Jagadeesh's success was his patience. He waited for the ball to come to him, never reached for it outside the off stump, and placed the ball rather than attempting to hit it too hard. Jagadeesh seemed oblivious to the scoreboard, focussing merely on preserving his wicket and treating each ball on merit, something that is easy to preach but difficult to practice.
Jagadeesh brought up his half-century off 98 balls, and when Abhishek Nayar was sent out to bat ahead of Mohammad Kaif, presumably in the belief that a left- and right-hand combination would put the spinners off their line, the tempo of the game changed. Nayar attacked purposefully, chipping, lofting and late-cutting at will to bring up a 28-ball half-century.
When stumps were drawn, Jagadeesh had helped himself to 79 and Nayar had sprinted to 56. India A, however, still needed 66 to avoid the follow-on, but will not be thinking too much about that given the batting still to come. West Indies A, however, were certainly the happier of the teams at the halfway mark in the game.