DURBAN: The light kept falling as M Vijay continued to shine. The Chennai opener has been under a bit of pressure of late, but his unbeaten innings of 91 might just act as the perfect breather.
As he closed in on his first overseas century, umpires Rod Tucker and Steve Davis said that the pace bowlers couldn’t operate in such fading light. The South African skipper Graeme Smith didn’t need a second invitation and took his troops out, as India finished the day at 181/1.
There were still 29 overs of play left and it could easily have got tougher for the hosts because of the way Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara (58 batting) batted and put up 140 runs for the second wicket. While Pujara was his usual composed self, starting from where he left off at Johannesburg, Vijay’s innings had glimpses of the flair that he has often shown in the subcontinent.
To his advantage, the ‘Indianness’ of Durban seemed to have crept into its Test pitch as well. There was hardly any movement, the pace was slow, and the Indian batsmen looked well equipped to handle anything that was thrown at them.
The best thing about the Indian batsmen during these two Tests has been their desire to spend time in the middle. Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan (29) were ready to leave outside the off-stump in the first hour. Dhawan has a distinctive way of leaving balls outside off.
He always looked to play inside the line of the delivery, so the ones moving away naturally missed his outside edge. But anything that was pitched up or was close to his leg-stump was promptly dealt with.
Dhawan and Vijay played out the first hour and it seemed that both the openers are destined for more. But Morne Morkel got Dhawan to drive away from his body off the first ball after drinks and induced an edge to be caught at slips.
Morkel, who sustained an ankle injury at Wanderers, was cleared to play the match only on Thursday morning after he passed a fitness test. But he was easily South Africa’s best bowler. He kept bowling short of length and extracted some bounce making it difficult for the Indian batsmen. To their credit, they didn’t give it away.
Vijay grew in confidence even as he was very choosy in his shot making. But he has the gift of timing and some of the shots that he played both on the on and off-side were a real treat. Dale Steyn, who was a shadow of his real self in the first session, looked much better when he came in to bowl in the middle session. He worked up good pace, bowled a little short and asked a few tough questions to Vijay and Pujara under fading light. But the Indian duo played with soft hands and got it down to irritate the pacer.
Skipper Graeme Smith kept throwing the ball to Robin Peterson, brought in place of leggie Imran Tahir, but the left-armer could hardly make any impression. Vijay and Pujara used their feet and tucked him away for some easy runs as SA kept running out of ideas.
Smith had the option of employing spinners from both ends when the light started fading, but he didn’t want to take the chance.
The Indian team dropped offie R Ashwin and brought in left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja. “Ashwin has done nothing wrong, just that Jadeja is a very good bowler himself and is better suited for these conditions,” Indian bowling coach Joe Dawes said.