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Friday, December 19, 2008

Gambhir and Dravid guide India to a comfortable position

In-form Gautam Gambhir cracked his third century in four matches and Rahul Dravid marked his return to form as India recoverd from a shaky start to put themselves on course for a huge first innings total in the second cricket Test against England here on Friday.

Gambhir (106 not out) traded belligerence for maturity while born-again Dravid (65 not out) exorcised the demons to star in a bailout act as India reached a comfortable 179 for one at close on a truncated opening day.

Virender Sehwag's scoreless exit in only the second over of the day denied India a flying start they are so used to these days.

To their credit, Gambhir and Dravid gamely hung on and eventually stitched together an unbeaten 173-run stand that not only pre-empted the fear of a batting collapse but also propped up the hosts on a chilly, gloomy day.

Gambhir, who took the cudgel on himself to guide India to safety after Sehwags early dismissal, remained not out on 106 off 229 balls, a knock garnished with 12 fours and a huge six off Graeme Swann.

This was his third century in four matches, underlining the magical year he has had. Dravid, on his part, finally got a huge monkey off his back with an unbeaten 205-ball 65 that included seven fours and spoke volume of his grit and gumption.

Only 72 overs could be bowled today before bad light dropped early curtains on the proceedings 45 minutes before scheduled close.

After poor light delayed the start of the match by 20 minutes, a laden sky and a gushing wind made it pretty much home conditions for the visitors and MS Dhoni's decision to bat first looked doomed as India saw Sehwag back in the pavilion with the scoreboard reading just six.

After poking at the first two balls he received from Broad, Sehwag ran out of luck and nicked the third and it was pretty much a routine catch for Matt Prior behind the stumps.

The early setback, besides Dravids initial struggle at the other end, prompted Gambhir to mothball his natural attacking game and focus more on surviving the treacherous morning session.

Naturally, the run rate took a nosedive and it was rather an unusual sight to see India crawl to 15 in the first 10 overs.

Gambhir got off the mark by sending the second ball of the innings to the boundary ropes but India had to wait another 11 overs before the next boundary came, highlighting their initial toiling.

Dravid, at the other end, looked in all sort of troubles as he struggled to middle the ball. On one occasion, his fluffed pull looped up and landed in the no mans land between the square and fine leg and when he pulled James Anderson to get into double figures, it turned out to be his first boundary in the last five innings.

Gambhir bloomed at the other end and stepped out to hit Monty Panesar for two boundaries in his first over.

Post-lunch session, Dravid too grew in confidence and looked more at home against the English attack and ran down Broad through the vacant third slip for a boundary and then took a couple off Andrew Flintoff to reach his first fifty in nine innings.

Gambhir slammed Anderson for back-to-back boundaries but was lucky when Paul Collingwood, otherwise safest of the English catchers, spilled a difficult chance off Swann in the lone slip when the left-hander was on 70.

The Delhi opener returned after tea to hoick the off-spinner over long on for a massive six and a couple off Anderson took him to his fourth Test ton.

Overall, it was a day of hard toil for the England attack, which managed just one wicket in three sessions.

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