Virender Sehwag [ Images ] can easily be called Team India's [ Images ] crisis man. Quite often, when the team looks for a boost, he provides the impetus with an innings of character and pluck at the top of the order.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni [ Images ] and his men were shattered after the crushing defeat in the first Test at Nagpur, but the bowlers raised morale with a good showing at the Eden Gardens as India ended Day 1 on a high. Thus, it was imperative that the batsmen extended the momentum with a spirited display.
Sehwag took the initiative and came out all guns blazing, not sparing even the world's best bowler, Dale Steyn [ Images ]. His cracking innings of 165 had a bit of everything in it. He got off the blocks in his typical whirlwind fashion, racing to a century off just 87 deliveries, 76 of the runs coming in boundaries. Then, he showed great application in the post-tea session to ensure that the team did not lose its way, like their opponents had on day one.
South Africa [ Images ] coach Corrie van Zyl was quick to concede that the dashing opener's blitzkrieg had disrupted his team's plans.
"I think it is unsettling to everybody. The fact that he scores very quickly and, obviously, he gets the crowd behind him all of that is unsettling. That is the time when you got to stick to game plans and get back to the basics.
"I thought, sometimes, we didn't do that and that is the strength of Sehwag," said Van Zyl at the end of the day's play.
If Sehwag provided the thrust, Tendulkar gave the Indian innings rigidity with a solid knock of 106. When the Delhi [ Images ] opener went after the bowlers, the Mumbai [ Images ] batting ace took a backseat and enjoyed the fireworks from the other end; but when Sehwag went into his shell after tea, it was the veteran who took charge.
Paul Harris, looking to employ a negative line from over the wicket, got a taste of Sehwag's audacious batting style when the right-hander twice reverse-swept him for boundaries.
The South African bowlers' game plan was clear: employ a strong off-side field and hope that Sehwag would edge one behind the wickets. However, today Sehwag connected everything with the middle of his bat; well, almost! And when he did give the South Africans a chance, twice, they failed to hold on. J P Duminy dropped a simple catch at first slip and wicketkeeper A B de Villiers missed a stumping.
The off-side strategy backfired big time as Sehwag kept pounding the cover boundary at regular intervals. In fact, 19 of his 23 boundaries came through the off-side, and he scored almost 70 per cent through that area.
He now has 19 centuries in Test cricket, and 13 of them are over the 150-run mark. They include two triple centuries and four double. And, in registering 18 of those tons, India lost four of matches, three of them overseas. The fourth was the last Test at Nagpur.
Today, one felt Sehwag could go and even score 300, such was the ease with which he batted.
But all good things come to an end and so did Sehwag's brilliant knock. The frustrating part was that he fell to a part-timer spinner -- a soft dismissal, chipping one straight to the short cover fielder.
He and Tendulkar had added 249 runs for the third wicket, scoring at more than four runs per over during their partnership.
Once Sehwag was out, India lost the plot somewhat in the closing stages of the day, losing three wickets for six runs.
Tendulkar joined him in the pavilion soon after, in the very next over, and the inexperienced S Badrinath was done in by Steyn's express to spoil a good day for the hosts.
Naturally, the visitors were delighted at having ended the day on a high.
"Going into the dressing room tonight I think we are happy with those three wickets that we took. That just brought the balance of the game back. We need to look at a few things and we need to set up in a few areas," said the South African coach.
The Nagpur Test was the first on home soil that India lost after Sehwag scored a hundred. Let's hope the script changes this time around.