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|Sehwag cracks a shot on his way to his 11th fifty in as many Tests [AFP]|
India rode on Virender Sehwag’s record-equalling half-century to reach 110-2 in their first innings in reply to Australia’s 428 in the opening Test in Mohali.
The Indian opener scored a blazing 59 off 54 balls with 10 fours in the final session after Australian wicketkeeper Tim Paine had missed out on a maiden Test hundred by eight runs on the second day.
Sehwag equalled the record of scoring a 50 or more in 11 consecutive Tests.
West Indies’ Viv Richards and Indian Gautam Gambhir are the other batsmen to have achieved the feat.
With the pitch offering no help to bowlers, Australia struggled to contain runs as Sehwag went for his shots from the beginning and raced to his half-century off 38 balls.
Australia introduced spin after 12 overs, but Nathan Hauritz was greeted with two fours by Sehwag, who was eventually caught by Michael Clarke in the covers off a leading edge to become paceman Mitchell Johnson’s second victim.
Wicketkeeper Paine, playing only his third Test, was earlier instrumental in boosting Australia with a solid knock of 92 that came off 196 balls with the help of 12 boundaries.
“It was very hot, they bowled well and set good fields. It wasn’t easy to score. It’s something I can look back on when I’m going through tough times,” said Paine.
“We’re quite happy with how much we scored, considering how well they bowled last evening.”
Australia were indebted to Paine for adding 153 runs for their last four wickets as he was involved in crucial stands with Johnson (47) and tail-ender Ben Hilfenhaus (20 not out).
Paine, who added 53 for the sixth wicket with opener Shane Watson (126), put on 82 for the seventh with Johnson and 54 for the ninth with Hilfenhaus to shatter India’s hopes of restricting the tourists to a modest total.
India’s bowlers struggled against determined Australian batting on an easy-paced pitch, taking just one wicket in the first session and two in the second.
Left-arm paceman Zaheer Khan was the most impressive bowler with 5-94, his 10th haul of five or more wickets in a Test innings.
Off-spinner Harbhajan Singh finished with 3-114.
“It would be nice to have Sehwag at the end of the day. We all know what kind of batsman he is. He likes to dominate attacks. He has won a lot of matches for us because of great starts,” said Harbhajan.
“We just need to bat well in the first innings. Bowlers had to work hard because the wicket is not helping.
“Zaheer bowled well. We had just three bowlers and he bowled his heart out. He is smart with reverse swing.”
With fast bowler Ishant Sharma unable to bowl after leaving the field on Friday due to a leg injury, India took the second new ball after 146.4 overs, relying on spinners Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan.
Sharma bowled just two overs on Saturday before being replaced with Ojha.
It was Zaheer who claimed a big wicket with the new ball when he had Paine caught by Venkatsai Laxman at second slip for his fifth wicket.
Watson, unbeaten on 101 on Friday, hit a career-best knock before being caught by Gambhir at short-leg off Harbhajan in the morning; his previous best being an unbeaten 120 against Pakistan at Melbourne last year.
He cracked 10 fours in his 338-ball innings.
Australia batted cautiously in the morning to add 71 in 29 overs to their overnight total of 224-5, but improved their run rate in the afternoon session, which yielded 95 runs in 26 overs.
Johnson played an entertaining innings, hitting two sixes off Ojha and one off Harbhajan. He looked set to complete his fifth Test half-century before being caught behind off Zaheer.
He also hit five fours in his 66-ball knock.
Paine, dropped on nought on Friday, played some attractive strokes after completing his half-century, hitting two successive fours off Ojha.