The duo batted with authority, during the partnership of 209, to prove that the domination of bat over ball in the opening Test has more to do with the conditions at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium than skill.
Vijay made 126 and Pujara smashed 124 as India reached 319 for four at the end of the third day’s play.
Made to toil, England had some late cheer when they took two wickets at the stroke of stumps. Trailing by 218 runs, the pressure is not completely off India. They need skipper Virat Kohli (batting 26) and Ajinkya Rahane to emulate the second-wicket pair for any chance of putting pressure on the visitors.
With their sixth 100-run partnership, Pujara and Vijay became the most prolific pair in Indian cricket in the last 10 years. Ever since they put together a 370-stand against Australia at Hyderabad in 2013, the two Test specialists have complemented each other well. Friday’s innings was their second-highest, taking their partnership aggregate to 2081 runs.
As the England bowlers will vouch, the two have their roles defined. Having a similar mindset, they love to bat long. When one is attacking, the other plays second fiddle.
An example of their understanding was seen when Pujara was given out on 86 off left-arm spinner Zafar Ansari. Vijay immediately signaled for DRS, and Pujara survived.
It was a typical Vijay innings where he took the responsibility and held one end up. He batted at his pace, not getting into a competition with Pujara, who scored at a quicker rate.
Pujara showed mental fortitude to handle the pacers, while displaying footwork and technique against the spinners. He took the pressure off Vijay early by dealing in boundaries. It was Pujara’s second successive hundred and third versus England.
Though they picked up two late wickets, it was an unimpressive performance by the visitors. Except for two five-over spells by Chris Woakes (first spell of the day) and Stuart Broad (post-lunch), the England attack failed to make an impression.
The most fascinating period of play was when Woakes shook up Pujara with a barrage of short balls. Woakes hit the batsman’s helmet thrice during a spell of 5-2-6-0, but Pujara was resolute.
During his spell of four maidens in five overs (5-4-1-0), Broad set up Vijay nicely but Haseeb Hameed dropped the catch at short cover with the batsman on 66 and the total at 190 for one.
The pacers couldn’t get reverse swing going, and probably James Anderson, at his best, could have made the difference.
Experienced spinner Moeen Ali’s inability to control the flow of runs was a setback. Captain Alastair Cook had to take him off after four overs and didn’t bring him back until the 68th over.
The hosts’ strong reply also took some sheen off England’s 537, as India batted in tougher conditions. They had a big total weighing on the mind and the wicket was helping the spinners more — the cracks had widened and there was uneven bounce.
Being a typical subcontinent wicket, batting is going to get more challenging with wear and tear. The spinners have started to come into play more, as was seen in the last two overs on Day 3.
On this track, one wouldn’t get out but for anything silly, and the keyword is patience. Kohli and Rahane will need loads of it to make the game safe.