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M Vijay and Pujara

Vijay, Pujara punish Sri Lanka with centuries

Ind v SL, 1st Test, Day 2 report

Centuries from both batsmen carry India to an imposing 312 for 2 and a lead of 107 runs on Day 2 of the second Test.

M Vijay returned to his wristy best, stroking his way to an eye-catching century, while Cheteshwar Pujara reiterated his desire to smother the opposition with a hundred of his own as India took control of the second Test against Sri Lanka on the second day at the VCA stadium in Nagpur on Saturday.

While Pujara patiently raised his 14th Test century, Vijay let loose an array of shots worthy of a video montage in making 128 from 221 balls. Vijay’s tenth Test century, alongside Pujara’s unbeaten 121 from 284 balls, guided India to 312 for 2 from 98 overs at stumps to establish a 107-run lead. Virat Kohli, the Indian captain, was batting alongside Pujara on 54 at stumps.

After being scuttled out for 205 with R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Ishant Sharma taking the wickets, Sri Lanka expected the pitch to reward tidy bowling. There wasn’t much in terms of movement or extra bounce, but consistency was going to be crucial. To their credit, Dinesh Chandimal’s men were very consistent, and their fielding backed the effort from their bowlers.

Unfortunately, though, they were up against two batsmen with monk-like focus and discipline. Pujara and Vijay were brought together after KL Rahul returned to the pavilion last evening, chopping a wide delivery onto the stumps. The score then was 11 and India trailed Sri Lanka by 194 runs at stumps.

By the time the second-wicket alliance for 209 runs came to an end with Vijay getting out meekly to Rangana Herath in the 76th over, India was leading by 11 runs. Then Kohli joined Pujara and stepped on the accelerator as the third-wicket partnership swelled to 96 in quick time to extend India’s advantage.

It was the kind of position the massive crowd, largely comprising school students, wanted the home side to be in. And it was the Pujara-Vijay union that gave them their fill.

Pujara and Vijay have been involved in nine century partnerships — not to forget the 370 they came up with against Australia in Hyderabad in 2013 — and have the best average (upwards of 70) among Indian batting pairs (minimum 2000 runs aggregate).

All this familiarity with each other's game was visible as they wore Sri Lanka down before landing some telling punches.

They tackled the first half of the opening session with plenty of caution, and that was especially true of Vijay, who last played a Test in March before going under the knife for an issue with his right wrist. But once his feet loosened up and his eyes acclimatised to the red ball, it was poetry. Pujara, at the other end, picked off singles at will and effortlessly slipped into the role of the support act.

Pujara and Vijay were more than happy leaving everything outside the off-stump and defending anything at their body when the pacemen were in operation. It wasn't until Herath and Dilruwan Perera, the Sri Lankan spinners, came into the attack that the action picked up.

A natural stroke-maker against the spinners, Vijay doesn’t like being locked down for too long, not even by a bowler with 405 Test wickets to his name. With Herath coming on in the 14th over and plugging away, Vijay’s jittery ways at the crease nearly cost him his wicket in the 17th over.

Vijay leaned forward and flicked the ball towards Sadeera Samarawickrama at short-leg, but the fielder wasn’t able to latch onto the catch. Vijay had gone a bit too far down the pitch and all Samarawickrama had to do was flick the ball onto the stumps for a run-out. Samarawickrama had enough time but panicked and back-flicked the ball in haste only to miss the stumps. Niroshan Dickwella, the wicketkeeper, too was out of his position, and Vijay was safe.

Thereafter, Vijay and Pujara plodded along, not in the least concerned with the run-rate. It was only when Perera, the offspinner, came on, that their eyes lit up and suddenly a flurry of shots helped India cruise towards 100.

Vijay offered Sri Lanka a chance after returning from the tea break when his uppish on-drive was nearly taken by Perera, who was positioned at a very straight mid-on just for that. Perera wasn’t able to hold on and, in the process, fell over Pujara too.

There was more drama in store as Chandimal reviewed for a nick that never was with Vijay on 91. Unperturbed, Vijay kept the board ticking and raced to a much-deserved century. Vijay looked relieved and Pujara was elated, but as soon as the moment passed, they put their heads down and continued to add to Sri Lanka’s misery.

There was some relief on this gruelling day for the visiting side when Vijay got out, top-edging a full toss to short fine leg. Pujara, however, ensured they would have nothing more to celebrate, bringing up yet another patient century. Kohli then rubbed salt to wounds with a breezy knock which took India past the 300-run mark.

ENDS

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