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Cheteshwar Pujara (left) celebrates his 9th Test hundred with Murali Vijay AFP

Cheteshwar Pujara’s strike rate was a matter of discussion when India were touring West Indies earlier this year. His slow scoring saw him being dropped from the side for the third Test at St Lucia. Murali Vijay, on the other hand, had injured himself and missed the second Test. Despite being fit for the St Lucia Test, Vijay, one of India’s most consistent batsmen in Test cricket, was not drafted into the XI. However, this home season, the duo showed intention desperate to reaffirm their reputation. Pujara’s golden form began since he returned to India for the Duleep Trophy. He maintained his form against New Zealand. And in the first Test against England at his hometown Rajkot, Pujara ensured that he was the first Indian to get his name imprinted in the stadium’s Honours Board. Live Cricket Scorecard: India vs England 1st Test at Rajkot

The local boy outshone everyone in the first ever Test at Rajkot. His strike rate was over 60. He survived three blows on his helmet to register his ninth Test hundred. His 124 put India in firm position. Scoring a hundred at home is special feeling. “It meant a lot, I just wanted to play to my potential, rather than think about the home crowd,” said Pujara after his innings. He may think it that way, but his father Arvind, uncle Bipin and wife Puja were all in the stands, celebrating and receiving congratulations from everyone around them. On and off the field, the spotlight stayed on the Pujaras.

With Gautam Gambhir making a comeback, the competition for the opener’s slots has further intensified. Vijay did get starts against New Zealand but failed to convert them. It has been a year and half since he had got his last Test hundred. Vijay made amends with a patient 126, a knock that came from 301 balls and added 209 runs for the second wicket with Pujara. He fell at the fag end of Day Three.

Similar in many ways, both Pujara and Vijay are not your regular billboard boy of Indian cricket. They bear the unwanted tag of ‘Test specialists’, just like Wriddhiman Saha. They possess impeccable temperament and like to take their time. While the scoring rates suffer at times, their presence ensures solidity but these men are aware when to up the tempo. Their effort has helped India to 319 for 4, in reply to England’s 537.

Their partnership also made the pair an entrant to the illustrious 2,000-club. Yes, the duo has added over 2,000 runs while they have batted together in Test cricket. Among batting pairs who have notched up over 2,000 runs at the crease together, Pujara and Vijay lead the average charts. Mind you, the list has some illustrious names. Let us look into the top five.

5. Mohinder Amarnath, Sunil Gavaskar (1976-87)

Innings: 44 | Runs: 2,366 | Ave: 55.02 | HS: 224 | 100s: 10 | 50s: 7

World Cup 1983 victorious teammates Gavaskar and Amarnath were right-handers and had a reputation for handling fast bowling, which made them stand out in overseas conditions. Gavaskar was an opening batsman, while Amarnath was a No. 3 batsman for most of his career. Like Vijay and Pujara, these men enjoyed batting together. In the Sydney Test of 1986, they batted close to five and half hours to register 224 for the second wicket and put India in a strong position. Australia escaped with a draw. They were together involved in 17 fifty-plus stands out of the 44 innings they have batted together.

 

4. Mohammad Azharuddin, Sachin Tendulkar (1989-2000)

Innings: 42 | Runs: 2,385 | Ave: 58.17 | HS: 222 | 100s: 9 | 50s: 5

Throughout the major part of the 1990s, Tendulkar and Azhar were mainstays of the Indian middle order. Over the years they featured in many memorable stands. Both were aggressive and elegant batsmen, who dominated bowling attacks.

Tendulkar and Azhar were involved in a 222-run stand against a hostile South African bowling attack in Cape Town. Azhar scored 115 from 110 balls! India eventually lost the Test by a massive margin but that partnership was amongst the finest displays of batting by an Indian pair overseas.

 

3. Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag (2002-12)

Innings: 58 | Runs: 3,383 | Ave: 60.41 | HS: 410 | 100s: 10 | 50s: 11

Rahul Dravid (left) and Virender Sehwag were involved in a 410-run opening stand against Pakistan at Lahore in 2005-06. (Courtesy: AFP)
Rahul Dravid (left) and Virender Sehwag were involved in a 410-run opening stand against Pakistan at Lahore in 2005-06. (Courtesy: AFP)

Contrasting yet effective, we see another opener and No. 3 pair in the list. While Sehwag is perhaps the most destructive opening batsman in the history of the game and ended his career with a strike rate of over 82, while Dravid was rock solid which earned him the nickname ‘Wall’. He finished with a strike rate under 43.

However, both knew the trick to make bowlers toil. While Dravid tested their patience, Sehwag tired them by making runs all around the ground. The duo was involved in a 410-run opening stand at Lahore in 2006, falling 3 runs short of the then world record stand of Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy. The success of Sehwag and Dravid played a major role in India’s rise to the No.1 spot in Test ranking in 2009-10.

 

2. Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly (1996-2008)

Sourav Ganguly (left) and Sachin Tendulkar are Indian cricket's most prolific batting pair. (Courtesy: Getty Images)
Sourav Ganguly (left) and Sachin Tendulkar are Indian cricket’s most prolific batting pair. (Courtesy: Getty Images)

Innings: 71 | Runs: 4,173 | Ave: 61.36 | HS: 281 | 100s: 12 | 50s: 16

It seems no pair enjoyed batting as much as Ganguly and Tendulkar did. They are India’s most prolific pair across formats and in international cricket, and stand only next to Mahela Jayawardene and Kumar Sangakkara. However, Tendulkar and Ganguly have a superior partnership average to the Sri Lankan stalwarts. In fact, they have been involved in 38-century stands in international cricket, which again in the highest.

In contrast to ODIs where they opened most of the time, they stitched many memorable stands in the middle-order in Test. Be it Trent Bridge in 1996 or Wankhede in 1997 or Headingley in 2002, the left-right batting combination unsettled best of bowling attacks. They had the advantage of possessing skills to tear apart oppositions at will and if needed play the waiting game too.

 

1. Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara (2010-2016)

Innings: 32 | Runs: 2,081 | Ave: 65.03 | HS: 370 | 100s: 6 | 50s: 9

The uncharacteristic pair of Vijay and Pujara top the chart in terms of averages. They love to bat and play long innings, and they love to bat together. Their 209-run stand drained out the energy of the English bowlers today but their best performance till date has come against the visiting Australians in 2012-13, when the duo added 370 and batted the visitors out of the Test.

Their role will be extremely crucial for India’s success in the ongoing long season of Test cricket.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer, strategist, entrepreneur, philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully [Twitter] and rivu7 [Facebook].)