Bad light halts Indian surge

Bad light halts Indian surge

 M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara have endured contrasting fortunes since making their international debuts.

While Pujara has attracted admiration with some huge hundreds, Vijay has been the pet-hate of many. But for once, they merged their paths to put India in control on the opening day of the second Test at Kingsmead on a muggy Thursday.

India, who swapped R Ashwin for Ravindra Jadeja, made 181 for one when the umpires stopped the match at 3.35 pm local time due to bad light, and the play never resumed. Vijay (91 n.o) and Pujara (58 n.o.) were holding the fort.

The memories of the dramatic first Test at the Wanderers were still fresh, but it was clear from the beginning that bowlers would have to put in that extra effort to make an impact on the Durban pitch. Vijay and Pujara used that sluggish nature of the track to telling effect, compiling 140 runs for the unbroken second wicket after the early departure of Shikhar Dhawan for 29.

Vijay might have got a feeling of the 22-yard strip when he leaned forward and drove Dale Steyn through mid-off in the third over of the morning. There was one of the fastest bowlers in the world coming in full steam, but the ball hardly rose above his knees. The South African quicks, indeed, managed to find some bounce on occasions, but the slothful pitch reduced the effect of their short-pitched balls.

Vijay and Pujara either swayed away from the line comfortably or fended off the chest-high deliveries with ease. But for Vijay, the day’s knock might have come as a massive relief. He has made hundreds at home, the latest being a 150-plus score against Australia at Mohali early this year. But that wasn’t enough to ward off his critics.

For them, he was suited to bat only on the sub-continent tracks, and for those flashy little knocks in the Indian Premier League. Perhaps, they couldn’t envisage him doing well abroad against a world-class attack, and from that point of view the day could well be a turning point for the Tamil Nadu right-hander. Of course, there was natural elegance in the shots he unfurled, but it was the grit he displayed that was more pleasing than the aesthetics.

Knowing his tendency to waft outside the off-stump, the South Africans employed three slips, a gully and point in the morning session. On occasions, the South African pacers managed to go past Vijay’s bat, but the edge remained elusive. Vijay showed tremendous concentration to put those moments behind him and continue with the task at hand. Back home, Vijay has shown many times that he could play with patience, and, in fact, all his best efforts this date has been marked by his sedate side.

However, Vijay’s innings on the day had elements of aggression. Vernon Philander pitched the ball up in his arc, and the Vijay put that away through the covers with a superb drive on the up. Philander tried to pitch it short in the next delivery but Vijay stood back and punched it through the covers with elan. Philander too was tamed emphatically.

At the other end, Pujara was solid as usual but without squandering the chances to score. Whenever the South Africans strayed on to his pads or offered him width, the Saurashtra batsman punished them with glee. Once set, both Vijay and Pujara was in fine touch, and scored at nearly five runs an over in the 10-over block between 20 and 30 overs.

South Africa, who brought in Robin Peterson in place of Imran Tahir, sprang a mini surprise when they included Morne Morkel, who hurt his ankle while fielding in the second innings of the first Test at Johannesburg, in their final eleven. The strapping pacer ran in and bowled without any obvious discomfort, and even inflicted the first blow on Indians, jettisoning Dhawan, who edged Morkel to Alviro Petersen at slips.

Morkel bowled with control and venom, but both Vijay and Pujara were well equipped to negate his threat as South Africa braced up for a long, hard day on the field. Bad light saved the hosts, but a tougher day beckons them.

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