Rahul Dravid struck a classic unbeaten century as India recovered from mid-innings jolts to reach a comfortable 249 for three on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad today.
It was a slow and steady progress for the Indians but for the post-lunch session when they lost debutant opener Akash Chopra (42) and batting star Sachin Tendulkar for eight.
Though runs were not exactly flowing, the Indian batsmen gave a vent to their penchant for stroke making in patches with Dravid hitting as many as 13 fours in 110-run knock and Laxman unleashing six boundaries for his unbeaten 56 after skipper Saurav Ganguly won the toss and elected to bat on a placid wicket.
Dravid, who came in when the team's score read 35 for one, played the sheet anchor role to perfection, adding 115 vital runs for the unfinished fourth wicket with the stylish Laxman.
The Kiwis, who came into the Test with the intention of setting records straight and winning their first ever Test series win in India, were successful to some extent in restraining the fancied Indian batting line up but they let go the initiative in the final session when they toiled without success.
The final session proved to be the most productive for India with Dravid and Laxman negotiating the pace-spin attack with ease and elan to add 100 runs to the total.
Having scored centuries in the Irani Cup and the Challenger Trophy in the lead-up to this Test, the Indian vice-captain settled into a rhythm early and was rewarded for his patience when he reached his 15th Test century with a four off speedster Daryl Tuffey.
Dravid, surprisingly, scored most of his runs on the off-side and executed his drives with near perfection. His 100 came off 211 balls with the help of 12 fours. A prolific scorer in the last season as well, Dravid seems to have struck the right note at the start of the fresh cricket season and has now 5717 Test runs to his credit.
Laxman, dropped from the one-day team after India's tour of New Zealand in December-January, also took a cue from 'The Wall' and had hit six fours for his unbeaten 56.
The Indian innings, which was cruising at 76 for one at lunch, suddenly found itself in disarray when debutant Chopra and Tendulkar returned to the pavilion in quick succession.
Reduced to a shaky 134 for three, things did not exactly look bright for the Indians but the ever dependable Dravid combined with Laxman to arrest the slide.
It was Chopra who was the first wicket to fall in the post-lunch sesion. Though it did not turn out to be a very impressive debut for the Delhi opener, Chopra did show some promise during his 42-run knock, weathering the blows and early onslaught of a raw new-ball attack comprising Tuffey and Jacob Oram with patience and determination.
The right-hander played with a straight bat to most of the deliveries and it was no surprise that he took as many as 116 balls to score his runs with four boundaries to his credit.
Chopra's patience finally gave away when he was caught and bowled by left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori.
A bigger disappointment was in store for Indian fans when Tendulkar, playing his first match since a finger operation after the World Cup, was caught in the slips by Nathan Astle off medium pacer Scott Styris.
The batting maestro perished to an uncharacteristically poor stroke, fishing to a wide outside the off-stump delivery and paid the price for it.
Another talented batsman who was left rueing the missed opportunity to score some big runs against a mediocre attack was Virender Sehwag.
Under the scanner for throwing his wicket in reckless fashion, Sehwag was expected to play a patient knock to drive home the point that he had ironed out this weakness of his but he once again was guilty of being over-ambitious.
The Delhi Ranji captain got a reprieve early on in his 29-run knock when Craig McMillan failed to latch on to a difficult chance off paceman Daryl Tuffey to concede a six, the only one of the innings, but Sehwag failed to make the most of it.
Though the decision of umpire David Shepherd to adjudge Sehwag leg before wicket off Tuffey was dubious as the ball looked like missing the leg stump, there was no denying that Sehwag found it difficult to curb his natural aggressive skills -- he had hit three fours and a six already in his 32-ball innings.
But making up for the lapses was the determined duo of Dravid and Laxman.
Dravid was the more dominant partner and in fact the best two shots of the day were played by him when he cover drove Jacob Oram for two boundaries in his first over with the new ball which was taken after 80 overs.
He reached his three figure mark with a magnificent cover drive off new ball bowler Tuffey.
Earlier, India went into the first of the two-Test series with two debutants in Chopra and Tamil Nadu paceman L. Balaji while the Kiwis included two spinners in Vettori and Paul Wiseman.
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