- India 312 for 2 (Vijay 128, Pujara 121*, Kohli 54*) lead Sri Lanka 205 by 107 runs
NAGPUR: That safe, warm, fuzzy, home-like feeling was back for India as their two most valuable Test batsmen in recent times reunited to keep others blissfully unaware of any dangers there might have been of the new ball, fresh bowlers or scoreboard pressure. That M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, now the second-most prolific second-wicket pair for India, would grind the Sri Lankan bowling was predictable, but it wasn’t as straightforward as expected. Sri Lanka tested India at the start of the first two sessions, their front three bowlers arguably fared better than they did in Kolkata, but Vijay and Pujara preyed successfully on the other two, forcing the main bowlers to come back for new spells sooner than they would have liked, and then milking them. Both got hundreds, and once Vijay got out, Virat Kohli drove home the advantage further with a quick unbeaten 54 before stumps.
Dasun Shanaka and Dilruwan Perera released all the pressure built on the pair as the first 18 overs of the day went for just 36 runs. Dilruwan conceded 117 in his 21 overs, and despite a late comeback, Shanaka went at 3.3 an over. The two had bowled just nine of the first 54 overs, which meant Dinesh Chandimal had to ask Suranga Lakmal, Rangana Herath and Lahiru Gamage to keep coming back. The overs in the legs showed when Lakmal went for 21 in four overs in his mid-afternoon spell despite reverse swing on offer. By the time he took the second new ball, Lakmal had lost all sting and discipline.
The loose balls were almost absent in the first hour of the day. In particular, Vijay, making a comeback into the Test side, had to endure a testing time. As openers do, he needed a little bit of luck going his way, but his discipline otherwise was good. Pujara, at the other end, hardly made an error.
Forced to defend, defend and defend, Vijay looked to manufacture a shot. He was 19 off 60 when he skipped down to Herath, got an inside edge to offer a half chance at short leg and also a full chance for a run-out because he had stepped out too far. Wicketkeeper Niroshan Dickwella, who seemed to have left his station to attempt a rebound off the short leg’s body, could have completed the run-out had he stayed put. As it turned out, a direct hit was needed, and Sadeera Samarawickrama missed from short leg.
In the next over, Vijay bat-padded a short-arm pull, but wide of short leg. Three overs later, Herath played with his inside and outside edges without creating a chance. Two overs later, Vijay fended at a short ball but the leading edge fell short of point. All this happened during a spell of four maiden overs, which was broken not with a rash stroke – as the Sri Lanka batsmen did on day one – but with a single to deepish mid-on.
The introduction of Shanaka brought two cover-driven boundaries for Vijay. He began with a plum half-volley, which got dispatched too. Fifty runs came in the next 13 overs, which took India to lunch. False strokes almost went out of India’s game, and the field looked prone. There was another concerted effort from Sri Lanka after lunch but another 26-ball barren spell was broken calmly by singles from these calm batsmen.
As the mileage grew in those legs, the intensity dipped, the run rate increased and the milestones began to arrive. After the tough start, Vijay scored 102 off the last 135 balls he faced even as Pujara maintained a more moderate acceleration. Vijay brought up his 10th hundred, Pujara his 14th, and the pair its 10th hundred and third double hundred together.
Vijay provided Sri Lanka with some respite when he top-edged a full toss he was sweeping to short fine leg, but the respite was momentary. While Pujara’s gradual acceleration continued, Kohli went faster than even Vijay had been. He even stole a bye with the ball in the wicketkeeper’s hand. In Test cricket. By stumps, the two had added 96 in 22.3 overs with Kohli repaying the hard work done by those before him, through quick runs that should give India enough time to bowl Sri Lanka out the second time around.