You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

India fight back with Vijay, Pujara tons

Wisden India logo Wisden India 11-11-2016
© Reuters Image

The Indian bowling and fielding crumbled under the pressure of losing the toss but the batting, led by contrasting yet equally effective centuries by local boy Cheteshwar Pujara and M Vijay, helped India fight back on yet another batsman-dominated day in the first Test against England in Rajkot.

Over the first two days, the sparse, scattered but loud crowd at Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium had weathered distance and sun only to witness England’s batsmen making merry.

On Friday (November 11), the third day, Pujara gave the crowd and the city a Test debut to remember with a stroke- and intent-filled 124 that, along with Vijay’s marathon 301-ball 126, helped India reach 319 for 4 by stumps. It could have been even better if not for England’s late strikes.

Scores (Day 3): England: 537 against India: 319/4

At the end of an attritional yet moving day, India were still trailing England’s 537 by 218 runs with Virat Kohli (26) in the middle.

When India resumed on their overnight 63 for no loss, their aim, though it sounds clichéd, would have been to just bat without worrying about the scoreboard. That pursuit began on a wrong note, with Gautam Gambhir trapped plumb lbw off Stuart Broad after playing down the wrong line completely while trying to flick a straight delivery. It was Broad’s first ball, and the day’s seventh, in the paceman’s 100th Test.

That, however, would be the last time England smiled for a long time. Pujara joined Vijay and the two were separated only after a 209-run partnership spanning 402 balls.

England didn’t have to wait too long to see what lay ahead of them. Pujara seemed a man on a mission and showed aggression straightaway, counter-attacking with a string of boundaries to ensure England didn’t get any sort of foothold after the Gambhir scalp.

© AP Photo

England had the right plan – try and go through Pujara’s often dodgy defence – and also the best bowlers to execute them in Broad and Moeen Ali. Offspinners in particular have been a cause of worry for Pujara in the past but this day was different: Pujara repeatedly skipped down the track to flick stylishly through the midwicket region.

Pujara had raced to 24 from just 22 balls, but he wasn’t always going to have it easy. He faced an examination of temperament and technique when Chris Woakes came into the attack and sent down a barrage of bouncers. Pujara was hit on the helmet thrice in as many overs from Woakes but at no point did he look unsettled. He gutsed out Woakes’s five-over burst, in which he conceded only six runs, and once that was done, shifted back to top gear.

Just as Pujara would have hoped for, the bowler replacing Woakes – Ben Stokes – could not maintain the same control. Pujara capitalised, taking him for six fours in three overs to go past his half-century. Indeed, as many as 48 out of Pujara’s first 60 runs came in boundaries.

At the other end, it was business as usual for Vijay. He stuck to his most trusted and effective batting style and ground England out with the balls he faced as much as the runs he scored. Vijay was largely in his shell but proved that he wasn’t sleeping inside it every once in a way, with sixes out of nowhere, before returning to his shell again.

© AP Photo

Vijay was resolute in defence and patient but knew exactly which bowler to target when he needed to. When England brought Zafar Ansari on for the first time in the day, Vijay immediately stepped out to hit the left-arm spinner over long-on for a six. He repeated the shot for the same result a while later to go past his fifty.

India scored 99 runs from 27 overs in the morning to go to lunch at 162 for 1. The initial momentum was grabbed, and the focus shifted to batting long. India had to do what England did to them and they had an apt pair to do that.

Pujara slowed down a touch after the break but still ensured he got the odd boundary, consistently getting on top of England’s spinners. Vijay had a slice of luck on 66 when Haseeb Hameed dropped him at extra cover after the batsman had played a drive he wasn’t quite in control of.

Pujara, and the crowd which included his father and his wife, also faced a nervous moment when he was given lbw off Ansari, before a successful review showed that the ball was going over the stumps.

More nervous moments awaited them when Pujara kept them waiting ahead of his century. Pujara spent ten balls on either side of the tea break on 99, before he pushed Woakes to point to bring up the milestone Rajkot was waiting for.

Slideshow: How Indian team’s jersey has progressed over the years

How Indian cricket team’s jersey has progressed over the years: 1992- There’s blues and then there are blues so it’s worth debating if India’s 1992 jersey Down Under was Navy, Midnight or the staid Oxford blue. But when colour came to World Cup clothing, it brought with it the stripes on the shoulders (white, red, green, blue) like the test pattern of colour bars in TV with India in san serif yellow. How Indian team’s jersey has progressed over the years

Vijay, too, caught up with another where-did-that-come-from straight six off Moeen to go into the 90s before taking Broad for two consecutive fours to get to his century, the landmark coming with a streaky edge wide of first slip.

The partnership cruised past 200 but England’s drooping shoulders got a bit of a lift when Pujara, quite carelessly after all the hard work, guided a harmless delivery from Stokes straight to Alastair Cook at wide first slip, the only man in the region.

The dismissal helped England keep India quiet in the latter stages of the day. Kohli took his time to settle down with England bowling either bouncers or wide of his off stump, and it didn’t help that Vijay received a blow just above his knee.

Vijay played through the pain but fell right at the very end of a tough day when Adil Rashid had him caught at short-leg with a googly, while Ansari got nightwatchman Amit Mishra for a two-ball duck in the same fashion.

Watch: When Shoaib Akhtar bowled Sachin for a golden duck

Replay Video

More from Wisden India

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon