By Rajaram Suresh
The slow and low sub-continent pitches have witnessed many a mammoth partnership, usually involving a minimum of one seasoned Test batsman. Be it the epic in the Eden Gardens where VVS Laxman etched the number 281 in the annals of Test history, or the humongous 400-run stand for the first wicket between Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid, where the former bludgeoned his way to a triple ton. The examples are one too many. But when two batsmen, relatively new to the Test arena, dug their boots deep into Hyderabadi soil, one couldn’t help but pity the listless Aussie attack, which once boasted of greats like Ray Lindwall, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne.
Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara concocted an impeccable mix of concentration and resolve for 658 balls. Contrary to natural instinct, Vijay was the subdued contributor, and Pujara the free-flowing bat. While Vijay reached his highest-ever in Tests, his partner fell short of his highest by two runs. However, Pujara ensured he crossed the 200-mark for the second time in his nascent Test career, which already boasts of four centuries. The duo’s 370 supplanted India’s record second wicket partnership set by Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath in Sydney — 224 against Australia in 1986.
Pujara, fondly called the ‘Mini Wall’, has seamlessly moved into the No 3 slot that his predecessor, Dravid, so awesomely manned for a very long time. His appetite for big scores is insatiable; his footwork is incredibly precise. He batted as if this was his last chance to wield the willow; he put a huge price on his wicket, refusing to budge from the 22 yards. His knee niggle didn’t prevent him either from scampering for a double to reach his hundred, or from responding to his partner’s call whenever a tight single could be squeezed. For someone who looks so much at ease playing the back-foot cover drive, one could be assured that he could very well be the one to resurrect the team in bouncy foreign pitches, in the event of an opening collapse —currently one of India’s gravest concerns.
Vijay, on the other hand, took guard in Hyderabad after two soft dismissals in the first Test — missing a full delivery and scooping a half-volley to extra cover. They were dismissals which didn’t reflect his calibre, and certainly didn’t do his confidence any good. He realised the need for a big score; he had been given his chances in the past, but didn’t respond with consistency. With Gautam Gambhir striking form, and Ajinkya Rahane and Shikar Dhawan waiting in the sidelines to grab his spot, the proverbial sword was hovering over his head. With a lukewarm first innings total of 237, Australia were hoping to make early inroads. But Vijay understood fully the gravity of his situation, and that of the team; he went into a shell for a full session on Day Two. In the second session, he peeked out of his cocoon meekly, with sporadic hits to the fence, but it was in the third session when he blossomed, reverting to the prolific shots that he is characteristic of. His footwork became surer; his shots were now sublimely timed; he left the ball with confidence, and attacked with panache.
It was heartening to see Pujara and Vijay craft their partnership. Apart from a deliberate glide by Pujara towards second slip that had the Aussie skipper lunging to his right, it was truly a chanceless partnership. Vijay’s desperation to cement his place reflected in his batting. Full credit to Vijay and Pujara for empathising with each other; Pujara realised Vijay needed the knock more than he did; Vijay kept in mind Pujara’s niggle, while running tight singles. It was a wonderful example of what every partnership should strive for — symbiosis.
Vijay can relax for the next week, knowing that he has secured his spot for the Mohali Test. Pujara has proved his mettle with yet another beauty. However, all four of his centuries have come on sub-continent pitches; he’d be itching to prove his abilities on overseas pitches when India tour South Africa later this year. On an unrelated note, if India don’t bat a second time in the second Test, as Sunil Gavaskar rightly put it, this might be the last we may be seeing Sehwag in the Border-Gavaskar series.
(Rajaram Suresh is a student of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering in IIT Madras. An avid cricket fan, he also explores his interest in journalism, music, books, and cinema, amongst other things)
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