Vijay, Pujara outsmart England spinners

Vijay and Pujara’s partnership of 209 runs ensured that India would avoid the follow on, but the fall of Vijay and Amit Mishra at the fag end of the day gave hope to the England spinners. India finished Day 3 at 319 for 4.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Murali Vijay cracked hundreds as India kept England at bay on the third day.   -  AP

India’s reply in pursuit of England’s substantial first innings total was magnificent. The home team is not in a safe position in the opening Test of the five-Test series though, with another six sessions to be played on a declining surface with a probability of chasing a tricky target in the fourth innings.

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But the courage and conviction shown by opener Murali Vijay and a commanding display by Cheteshwar Pujara wiped out the bad memory of left-hander Gautam Gambhir being prised out by seamer Stuart Broad in the seventh ball of the third day’s play. They also dashed the hopes of the England spinners.

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Both Vijay and Pujara have proved to be tough nuts to crack in the past and on Friday, England did not find its seam and spin department reaching the expected efficiency levels to break the second-wicket pair’s will for nearly five hours.

Vijay and Pujara’s partnership of 209 runs ensured that India would avoid the follow on, but the fall of Vijay and Amit Mishra at the fag end of the day gave hope to the England spinners.

Vijay dropped anchor for eight hours and five minutes, but it was Pujara’s day out in the middle at the Saurashtra Cricket Stadium in the presence of a modest turnout. He put his best foot forward, faced 206 balls, was solid in attack and defence and brought out his repertoire of strokes against the seamers and spinners alike before gifting his wicket by offering a straightforward catch to the England captain, Alastair Cook, the only man at widish slip. Pujara had the DRS to thank though, when on 86 his appeal against the decision of umpire Chris Gaffaney, who had adjudged him leg before, was successful.

 

Though left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari’s orthodox delivery beat the right hander’s forward play and found its way to strike the back leg, the umpire Decision Review System (DRS) confirmed Pujara and Vijay’s judgment that the ball would have gone over the stumps. England got its second wicket after 67 more deliveries when Pujara directed a wide delivery from Ben Stokes to Cook. Pujara showed disgust at the shot he made, but after the replay confirmed that Stokes had not overstepped the popping crease, he had to leave.

Nothing, not even the exacting exercise of chasing a total of tall order or the three blows he took on his shoulder and helmet off the bowling of Chris Woakes, flustered the local native, Pujara. He, in fact, brought relief to the Indian camp with a flurry of shots soon after Gambhir’s departure in the second over after four byes and a single had been added to the overnight total.

 

The probability of Pujara not making some runs in a match at the two venues in the town is low. So when he converted Broad’s full-pitched delivery into a spanking off drive, everybody at the venue knew the local had shown the first sign of striking form.

Very soon, he gave the rough treatment to off-spinner Moeen Ali, hitting him for three fours on either side of the wicket. Unable to sway away from the short balls from Woakes, he appeared clumsy turning his face away and taking blows on his front shoulder and the helmet grille, but he soon started dominating Ben Stokes.

Vijay, always a doughty customer and well equipped to deal with difficult situations, showed exemplary restraint. He cut out all frills and blocked with a straight bat for many hours, but also danced down the pitch to lift three straight sixes to illustrate his control over the circumstances. The dark patches in close proximity to the batting crease at both ends of the pitch and cracks around the good length areas made it difficult to score against spinners Moeen Ali, Zafar Ansari and Adil Rashid.

India advanced by 99 runs in the first two hours, but was contained by a consistent one-side bowling in the second session, especially after Broad was introduced in the post-lunch session to hit the 'short of good length' areas where the cracks had begun to open up. India was allowed to score only 66 in 29 overs of the second session.

Cook went back to his seamers because of the inability of the three spinners to make any impression.

There were occasions when the ball jumped and turned, as predicted, and there will be more purchase for the England spinners on the fourth day. Kohli will try and lead the challenge with the likes of Ajinkya Rahane, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja and hope to get nearer to England’s 537 or even surpass it. "The two wickets in the last session has given us a lift, not an edge," said Paul Fabrice, England’s assistant coach.