Murali Vijay scored his first Test ton overseas © Getty Images
By Abhijit Banare
Jul 9, 2014
Murali Vijay scored his fourth Test ton and first in overseas conditions to take India to a commanding position of 259 for four at stumps on Day One of the first Test at Trent Bridge on Wednesday. On an easy batting wicket, Vijay stuck to the task and shepherded the Indian innings after a brisk start. Skipper MS Dhoni‘s unbeaten 50 towards the end gave the visitors much needed momentum. Dhoni and Vijay shared an unbeaten stand of 81.
India couldn’t have asked for a better start to their tour. At venue known to present green tops, the visitors were welcomed to dry grass which offered a subcontinent-like condition to bat. And to top it, Dhoni won the toss and had little hesitation in opting to bat. For the first time since 2008, India went in to the match with five bowlers overseas with the fifth being Stuart Binny — 281st Test debutant for India. It was a see-saw battle throughout the day with India losing momentum after the lunch and tea session. But England ran in to a wall of a different kind in Vijay.
In the run-up to the series, Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli were tipped to be the backbone of Indian batting. And if looked back at Vijay’s importance, this was a pressure situation with not an impressive run overseas and an experienced Gautam Gambhir waiting in the squad. However, Vijay showed exceptional temperament. He was tested in phases throughout the day and not once Vijay looked vulnerable in such situations. The first came when he was in the 40s with Liam Plunkett targeting him with short balls coming round the wicket. Yet he survived and remained unbeaten on 55 as India went to lunch at 106 for one.
Just after the lunch break came Vijay’s testing phase. His set partner at the other end — Pujara, was foxed by James Anderson with a slower delivery and was brilliantly caught by Ian Bell. Within a blink, Stuart Broad from the other end had removed another key player — Kohli for one.
From thereon, Vijay and Ajinkya Rahane had to show their skills against reverse swing from Anderson and Broad. In the 12 overs post lunch, India had accumulated only 14 runs. After seeing off the tough phase, Vijay eased the pressure with a few fluent drives and Rahane too looked steady.
Stat: Murali Vijay is the 11th Indian batsman to score a century in the first Test of a series in England. Vijay’s ton is the 100th overall at Trent Bridge
The important aspect of Vijay’s innings was giving the push after every dull phase. If he had not carried on with the free-flowing cross-batted shots, India would have looked extremely vulnerable at the end of the day. Towards the end of the second session he was back at his usual best. After the loss of Rahane post tea, India were in a precarious position as they could’ve easily lost their way. With skipper Dhoni promising of an attacking display, England always had the chance to grab a quick fifth. However, the Indian skipper shrugged off a shaky start and scored briskly to help India regain the momentum.
After hanging around on 99 for a long time Vijay completed his ton — his first in overseas conditions. After racing up to 41 at over a strike rate of 100, Vijay faced a total of 214 balls for his ton which showed the value of temperament in the painstaking effort. Once he crossed hundred, the cover drives looked more graceful and the timing was as sweet as one would expect from a centurion. It was one of the better innings from Vijay where the bowlers have not been able to dominate him.
Alastair Cook’s captaincy though still looked a touch shaky. While the smart field placements paid off, his choice of using Ben Stokes as much as his regular pacers still looked out of place. And the absence of a specialist spinner is certainly hurting England. But credit to the pacers for adapting to the conditions. There was not much swing or seam movement off the deck, but the change of pace and angle of deliveries were key to their success today.
At the end of the day, it was India who will take more positives as they have put up runs on the board. But India will be is appointed if they fail to get anywhere close to 400. It’s one of those flat decks where bowlers will have to earn their wickets. With Indian bowling not as reputed compared to England, a solid first innings total is the first target for India.
India 259 for 4 (Murali Vijay 122*, MS Dhoni 50*; James Anderson 2 for 70) vs England.
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(Abhijit Banare is a reporter at CricketCountry. He is an avid quizzer and loves to analyse and dig out interesting facts which allows him to learn something new every day. Apart from cricket he also likes to keep a sharp eye on Indian politics, and can be followed on Twitter and blog)