For a moment you might have wondered whether the partisan Shimoga crowd had instantly shifted loyalties. Cheteshwar Pujara certainly must have as he walked back to the pavilion,his head bowed in disappointment. For the Jawaharlal Nehru National College of Engineering (JNNCE) ground was just witnessing its loudest cheer,probably ever. One that had been set off as soon as the India A skipper holed out at backward square-leg after top-edging a sweep.
The crescendo though had nothing to do with the dismissal of the most proficient Test batsmen in India presently. It rather had everything to do with the arrival of the man they had all come to see bat.
Unfortunately,they were silenced within 11 minutes. Virender Sehwag had failed them just like Gautam Gambhir had a while earlier. They had braved the Shimoga heat on the opening day of the unofficial Test too,turning Zaheer Khan into their cynosure,only to be let down by the senior pacer who got just one wicket.
While the VIPs limped off the stage,a couple of unfancied performers and a domestic behemoth ensured that the party wasnt a total flop. If Bhargav Bhatt outshone Zaheer by recording his best-ever first-class figures of 7/113,Kerala opener VA Jagadeesh and Abhishek Nayar ensured that the crowd got their voice back by batting India A into a good position at 190/3 in reply to West Indies As 406 at JNNCE on Thursday.
The Shimoga faithful had created a ruckus every time the ball went anywhere near Gambhir and Sehwag even while the hosts were on the field. Though he did acknowledge their adulation on a couple of occasions with a wave,Gambhir in particular seemed too preoccupied otherwise.
The left-hander is generally considered an intense individual. But here in fact,Gambhir seemed obsessive with his batting,found shadow-practising for his eventual stint in the middle on numerous occasions while India A were on the field. He even ended up having an extended net after the first days play.
Gambhir looked edgy from the moment he walked out to bat on Thursday. He was hurried by the pace of Fidel Edwards,looked uncomfortable against Miguel Cummings awkward bounce and kept incessantly reassuring himself by replaying almost all his defensive strokes.
He took 19 balls to get off the mark,seemingly frustrated by the 15th when he tried to walk down the crease to Edwards. And he could well have been on his way for a duck when he was caught behind off a no-ball while attempting a wild waft outside his off-stump.
His travails continued as Gambhir stumbled to 5 off 50 deliveries. The arrival of spin should ideally have been his moment to break free. After all at his pomp there were few batsmen in the world as proficient at tackling spin as the Delhi opener. And Gambhir did look at ease when he stepped down the wicket to the second delivery he faced from Veersammy Permaul and launched him over mid-on for a boundary. Two balls later,his ungainly vigil was over as Gambhir (11) ran down again,played a false shot,an attempted hoick that ended up being skied and caught by Edwards at mid-wicket.
One thing you can never blame Sehwag for is being too fussed about his batting. And unlike his Delhi opening partner,he kept playing to the crowd,waving his hand and even asking them to cheer his name out louder while fielding at slip.
But like Gambhir,he too made an uncharacteristic start to his innings,looking unsettled against Permaul,inside-edging a ball onto his pads and then almost chopping one onto his stumps. There was one shot of authority in his next over as he swatted the Guyanese left-arm spinner past point for four. Then he tried it again,lost his balance,and was stumped swiftly by Chadwick Walton,with only seven in his tally.
Only minutes later,Sehwag and Gambhir were together again in the dressing-room,peering over the television set as the senior of the two looked for an explanation to his soft dismissal.
Amidst all the chaos,Jagadeesh though had looked hardly out of place. Calm and composed,the 30-year-old right-hander handled both pace and spin with equal proficiency,playing a few fluent drives against Edwards and Cummings while expertly tucking away Permaul and Nikita Miller for ones and twos without a fuss in the world. This has already been the most prolific of his seven seasons in first-class cricket so far,and Jagadeesh,who scored 91 against New Zealand in Visakhapatnam last month,looked set to make the most of it. While he kept plucking away,Nayar,despite the precarious situation his team was in,blasted off in typically explosive fashion,tearing into the spinners with slog sweeps and lap shots. He raced away to a half-century off just 28 deliveries,continuing on his impressive form.
The bowling honours though had belonged to Bhatt. He stuck to his strengths of accuracy and a judicious use of the crease. Having taken crucial wickets on the opening day,he cleverly shifted to bowling as straight as possible against the tail,and benefitted greatly having them either lbw or bowled,receiving raucous acknowledgement from the crowd for each of his seven wickets.
Just like Jagadeesh as he reached his half-century,who got possibly the loudest cheer of his career. And despite being overshadowed by a starry presence around them,the likes of Bhatt and Jagadeesh ensured that a star-struck Shimoga had made them their own.
Brief scores: WI A 406 all out in 121.5 overs (K Brathwaite 82,A Fudadin 63,N Miller 64*; B Bhatt 7/113) vs Ind A 191/3 (VA Jagadeesh 79*,A Nayar 56*; V Permaul 2/60)