Given how pivotal both Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag were in India’s rise to No.1, it was vitally important for them to put together the sort of partnership that they had in Ahmedabad. They are class acts and I have always believed that a big knock was just round the corner.
Viru did it in Ahmedabad, and his approach was perfect. He needed to spend some time at the crease early on and once he did that, runs flowed. The opening partnership of 134 laid the foundation for India to pile up 500 and take a firm grip on the game.
This Test in Mumbai is Viru’s 100th, and I am personally delighted about him achieving such a feat. Lots of personal memories keep rushing in and believe me, they are all very happy ones. As for Gambhir, he was also very positive in his approach and shaping up well. For him, batting at home is not the problem. He has been tentative away from home, but since India are not touring for a while, he has time to sort out his problems.
I was very impressed with Cheteshwar Pujara, and I strongly believe that he has improved a lot since the New Zealand series. For me, he was the standout player in the first Test. He is an old-fashioned player, and when he used his feet to step out and hit the spinners along the ground, it was an absolute delight.
But let’s not compare him with the great Rahul Dravid, who served the game for 16 long years and was a champion for India across the world. Pujara is young and has immense promise, but he still has a long way to go.
I also wouldn’t worry too much about R Ashwin’s second-innings performance. I don’t think Harbhajan Singh’s presence on the bench unsettled him. Ashwin is a very mature guy, and will not be influenced by such things. He just needs to be a little more patient, especially on tracks where the ball is coming off very slow.
As far as Pragyan Ojha is concerned, I was delighted to see him bowl on that surface in Ahmedabad. I have always believed that he is a good-wicket bowler because of his pace and variations. He was splendid at the Motera, and will be an asset to Indian cricket even in overseas conditions.
Yuvraj Singh made runs in his comeback game and I believe that he still has four to five years left to make his mark as a Test cricketer. He played an important hand in setting up the huge Indian total, and as long as we leave him alone to do things his way, I think he will blossom even more.
I thought Ahmedabad was the perfect Test for India, and it showed just how strong they are at home. When you win a toss in these conditions, it is such an advantage to the side batting first. The moment India got to 500, it was one-way traffic. England had to bat out of their skins to save the game. A good first innings is so important in these conditions, and once were dismissed cheaply, they were always up against it.
Other than Alastair Cook and Matt Prior, they struggled against spin. Cook’s technique was impeccable, while some of his teammates were so indecisive in defence. What surprised me was the way Kevin Pietersen batted. He is one of the best players of the world, and one could see him losing the mental battle against the left-arm spinner.
His success in this series will be very important for England, and he will have to find a way to play. But despite the negatives, the way England batted on a wearing pitch on days three and four will give them a lot of confidence going in to the Mumbai game.
I was a bit surprised by the fact that the English bowlers failed to get much movement with the new SG ball. Even reverse swing didn’t work as well for them as it did for Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav. The Indian pace duo bowled very well, and their effort and the crucial breakthroughs they provided helped the spinners to be more effective as well.
For more on the India-England rivalry, read the latest Wisden Extra.