Rajkot: Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara hit unbeaten half centuries as India made a forceful reply to England’s imposing first innings total of 537 on the third morning of the opening Test here today.
At lunch, the home team were 162-1 in their first innings, 375 runs behind England, after starting at the overnight score of 63-0 at the SCA Stadium.
Opener Vijay was unconquered on 57, after having faced 142 balls and hitting 2 sixes and 5 boundaries in his 224-minute stay.
Pujara, who joined Vijay at the fall of opener Gautam Gambhir’s wicket in the second over of the day, had overtaken the opener to be 62 not out off only 86 balls. His 117-minute essay contained 12 fours.
By lunch the second wicket duo had added 94 runs for the unfinished second wicket by rotating the strike nicely.
The lone batsman to be dismissed was left-handed opener Gambhir, who fell in the second over to Stuart Broad, after which Vijay and Pujara held fort till the end of the first session.
When the third day’s play commenced India were faced with the daunting task of adding 275 more runs to avoid following on behind England’s massive first innings 537.
Openers Vijay and Gambhir had started well last evening to put on an unfinished half century stand, but the latter departed early today after adding just one to his overnight 28. He was dismissed in the seventh ball of the day.
The left-handed batsman, on a comeback trail after being in the wilderness for more than two years, was trapped right in front of the stumps by Broad with the first ball of his morning spell.
Gambhir tried to turn the fuller length ball to the leg side but failed to connect and it rapped him bang in front of the stumps with India on 68.
Vijay and new batsman Pujara – who has in the past scored a triple century for Saurashtra in Ranji Trophy at this very ground, then took up the daunting task of replying strongly to England’s third-highest ever score in India.
The two batsmen complemented each other nicely — a trait evident from their massive record-setting partnership of 370 for the second wicket against Australia in the Hyderabad Test match three years ago.
Pujara was confidence-personified from the first ball he faced, off-driving Broad for a sweetly timed four. With Vijay playing second fiddle, Pujara set about getting the runs – quite a few of them with excellently timed boundary hits.
The Rajkot-born batsman clipped Broad off his pads and then drove Moeen Ali off the firing line by striking him for two fours – a square cut followed by a twinkle-toed dance down the wicket for an on-drive.
Ali was replaced by left-arm slow bowler Zafar Ansari and Vijay, quiet after the arrival of Pujara, greeted his arrival to the bowling crease by coming out of the crease and smacking the bowler for a six over long on, the first of the innings.
The maximum from Vijay also heralded India’s 100 in the 32nd over.
Broad gave way to Chris Woakes at the other end and he once struck Pujara on the back of his helmet by digging the ball in short.
Vijay, too, was lucky as his leading edge to an attempted flick off Ansari did not go to the cover fielder’s hands.
Barring these two incidents, the two batsmen were in control as 43 runs were added in 13 overs in the first hour of play.
Woakes bowled a fiery spell of five overs in which he conceded just 6 runs but the moment he was off the firing line Pujara helped himself to three fours in two overs from England’s century maker Ben Stokes, the caressing shot bisecting cover and mid off fielders being the pick.
The local star was quickly narrowing the run-gap with Vijay who was content to play the supporting role.
As is his wont Vijay suddenly went into the attacking mode and clouted Ansari for a second six over long on, to the same area where he hit his first, and followed it with a lofted four to long off.
The six took the opener to his 15th career half-century in his 43rd game, third against England and sixth at home. It came off 129 balls and he consumed 204 minutes and included two sixes and four fours.
In the very next over Pujara too reached the minor landmark by exquisitely driving Stokes to the cover fence. It was his 10th four and his half century came off only 74 balls and in 100 minutes.
Vijay survived some anxious moments against leg spinner Adil Rashid in the last over before lunch. India added 99 runs in 27 overs in the two-hour period. PTI
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