Nostalgia holds a special place in any sport. It injects an element of romanticism in the game to warm the cockles of the heart. Day two of the second Test between India and Australia in Hyderabad was one such day, eliciting memories of some of the glorious moments in Indian cricket.
India started the day at 5 for 0 and lost the wicket of Virender Sehwag early. Cheteshwar Pujara arrived at the crease to accompany Murali Vijay. India were 17 for 1, trailing by 220 runs. Pujara niftily flicked the first ball he faced to the deep square leg boundary; Siddle was the bowler who was in the midst of a fine spell. Vijay, who failed in both innings in the first Test, was short of confidence initially and focused on occupying the crease rather than scoring runs. Any ball which was pitched slightly outside the off stump was left alone and the good-length deliveries were jammed back to the bowlers by leaning forward.
Pujara hurt his knees early when he dived to reach the crease and managed only three runs off the next 32 balls he faced. He was foxed by Siddle on a number of occasions outside the off stump, and only 26 runs were added to India's score in 19 overs during that period. It seemed that both the batsmen were bogged down.
The tables were turned after lunch. Vijay broke the fetters by whipping Siddle to deep square leg in the second over and Pujara cracked three boundaries in Pattinson's 13th over - a two sumptuous cuts and a stirring cover drive. Meanwhile, Vijay took the attack to Xavier Doherty by hitting a six over long-on to reach his half-century. By then, he and Pujara had got the measure of the bowlers and pitch and were playing the balls on their merit, pinching singles and doubles with ease.
There was a paradigm shift when the part-time offspinner Glenn Maxwell entered. Pujara came down the track and cracked him through extra-cover to bring up his fifty; Vijay smashed a couple fours in Maxwell's next over as India reduced Australia's lead under 100. Though Pujara was limping while running between the wickets, his footwork against the spinners was sparkling and his application creditable. At tea, India were 160 for 1 in 63 overs.
The last session of the day almost took the match away from Australia as both Pujara and Vijay tore into the bowling. Pujara pulled Henriques with disdain in the first over after tea to set the tone and creamed Doherty for another boundary in the next. Vijay was solid at the other end but Pujara outshone and outscored him in the last hour. He took 114 balls for his first 50 runs but just 74 for the next to reach a stirring century. His conversion rate, four hundreds and one half-century, is further testament that he has a voracious appetite for scoring big hundreds. Out of his four hundreds, three exceed 150.
Vijay danced down the track and whacked Doherty over extra-cover to rack up his second Test hundred. His first had also came against Australia at Bangalore in 2010, co-incidentally Pujara's debut Test. In that match, the pair had put on 72 for the second wicket as India chased 207 for a series victory. Interestingly, even on that occasion Sehwag was out with India's score at 17.
In some ways, their unbroken partnership of 294, the highest second-wicket alliance for India against Australia in Tests, was a throwback to partnerships compiled by VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid at Kolkata in 2001 and Adelaide in 2003 against the same opposition. There's no denying the fact that Laxman and Dravid scored big hundreds against superior Australian attacks; on both the occasions, India registered historic victories. In that sense, Pujara, Vijay and this Indian team still have a task at hand.
India can take heart from the fact that one of their openers, drafted into the team in place of Gautam Gambhir, has managed to strike some form and that Pujara continues to enhance his reputation as an ideal replacement for Dravid at No. 3. Going by the proceedings on day two, it wouldn't be erroneous to state that Australia ran into two Very Very Special Walls ... yet again.
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