Brisbane: Australia’s hopes of bouncing the Indian batsmen out on the pacy Gabba surface swiftly evaporated in the sweltering heat.
Mitchell Marsh limped off with a hamstring, Mitchell Starc was feeling his knee and ribs, Josh Hazelwood had to leave twice due to cramps and Mitchell Johnson grimaced while rubbing his lower back. While the Australian fire was doused by the hot and humid conditions, their spirits were further deflated by another resilient Indian batting performance, led by Murali Vijay (144, 336m, 213b, 22×4).
It was a baptism by fire for stand-in skipper Steven Smith who may have lost clue of who is on field and who is not as bowler after bowler made a beeline to the dressing room. What was worse for Australia was that Marsh was later ruled out from bowling and there’s a good chance he may not bat in the match.
At close on the opening day of the second Test, India had reached 311 for four after electing to bat first here on Wednesday. Ajinkya Rahane (75) and Rohit Sharma (26) were holding vigil at the wicket.
If the Australians were expecting India to keel over meekly in the face of a four-pronged pace barrage on the fast pitch, they were in for a rude shock. It was a good toss to win by skipper MS Dhoni but his batsmen had to back his decision to bat first on the bouncy surface. Dhoni, who replaced Wriddhiman Saha, was one of the three changes that India effected to their side along with R Ashwin and Umesh Yadav, coming in for Karn Sharma and Mohammad Shami respectively.
For the first time in nearly three and half years, India were able to raise 50 runs for the opening wicket and this was only the beginning of more good things to come. Shikhar Dhawan played a subdued innings but again failed to build on his start, going hard at Mitchell Marsh to end a 56-run stand with Vijay.
Cheteshwar Pujara too appeared comfortable but was done in by a poor decision by umpire Ian Gould. Hazlewood’s bumper had gone off Pujara’s helmet grill but the Englishman thought the batsman had gloved it as well. Virat Kohli looked at ease but slashed wildly away from his body to be caught behind wicket.
Having won the first session after breaking for lunch on 89 for the loss of Dhawan, India surrendered the advantage in the second session, losing two important wickets while managing a mere 62 runs. Vijay, however, stood firm despite the difficult playing conditions. It may have helped that he comes from Chennai where heat and humidity are even more oppressive but there was no denying his bloody-mindedness.
He did earn two reprieves — once on 36 and then again on 102 both dropped by Shaun Marsh and both times off Johnson – but that hardly took away any sheen from his fifth career century. And incidentally, four of them have come against Australia. While he did show urgency in keeping the board ticking, he wasn’t given to adventurism.
He played on the patience of the bowlers who were clearly struggling to cope with the heat. He wasn’t even aggressive against Nathan Lyon whom he had tried to hit out of attack on a turning Adelaide pitch. It was only when the right-hander was looking tired he took on the off-spinner.
He was blissfully unaware of the century he had reached following two crisply essayed fours off Shane Watson. Even as Rahane came to congratulate his partner, Vijay appeared a little perplexed, glanced at the score board and then took his helmet off to celebrate perhaps his most precious milestone. Maybe he didn’t want to go through those nervous 90s’ again after his bitter experience at Adelaide in the first Test when he was dismissed on 99. Come to think of it, he has been dismissed on 90s thrice since the South Africa series in December 2013 and it was a blessing in disguise that he remained oblivious of his score.
It was Vijay’s 124-run association with Rahane for the fourth wicket, the most productive of the innings, helped India take the day’s honours after Australia had threatened to hit back with a good comeback in the middle session. Rahane is in good touch while Rohit looked assured. With all the front-line bowlers facing one or the other problem, the two should look to capitalise on it and pile up a total that will give license for the Indian pacemen to attack.