Almost as if it was meant to happen, Rest of India (RoI) skipper Virender Sehwag pulled out before toss. And what was supposed to be Sehwag's opportunity to get back into form was grabbed by Murali Vijay.
On Wednesday morning, Sehwag opted out of what could be his last game before the Australia Test series with 'upset stomach' cited as the reason. Vijay, who would have either not played at all or walked in at number three had Sehwag played, struck a composed 116 at the Wankhede after Mumbai skipper Abhishek Nayar elected to bowl.
The Tamil Nadu opener's knock helped ROI finish on 330 for five, giving them early control on Day 1 of the Irani Cup against Ranji champions Mumbai.
A distinct tinge of green on the wicket was enough for the hosts to ask ROI to bat first. The first hour's play progressed as expected as there was movement for pacers Dhawal Kulkarni and Javed Khan and both Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan fished outside off-stump.
But Dhawan and Vijay survived the opening burst. Later, they consolidated, attacking the bowlers once the ball began to lose its shine.
Dhawan was merciless on anything short as he dispatched the medium-pacers to the mid-wicket boundary. But Dhawan's exploits came to an end when he dragged a wide delivery from Shardul Thakur onto his stumps.
Vijay has had the knack of throwing away his wicket after getting off to a start. However, with all the selectors in attendance, the 28-year-old ensured he did not fall into that trap. He staked claim for the Australia Tests, considering that both Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag are not in prime form.
Having warmed the bench through the England Tests, Vijay was eager to put that frustration behind. "It is a challenge but as a professional sportsperson you can't crib. How you move forward is what matters," he said.
The manner in which Vijay would merely punch shorter deliveries from the pacers through the off-side was his trademark. And he didn't hesitate to show his aggression despite being so close to his century, cutting a short delivery over the slip cordon for six.
The only time Vijay was given a lifeline was when he was caught by the wicketkeeper on 79 while trying to cut an outswinger from Thakur, but the bowler had overstepped.
However, it was his day as Vijay pushed Kulkarni wide off mid-on for a boundary to raise his 11th first-class century. Possibly the only time he was late on a shot, skipper Abhishek Nayar got the ball to zip in between his bat and pad to disturb his timber.
Nayar, deputising after Ajit Agarkar was ruled out due to injury, was the most effective bowler. He set batsmen up the way he had through the Ranji season by bowling wide outside off-stump before bringing it back in.
Brief scores Rest of India 330/5 (Vijay 116, Dhawan 63, Rayudu 51; Nayar 2/49) vs Mumbai.
The ‘Wright’ spectator
Former India coach John Wright was in the stands along with Saba Karim, Rajinder Singh Hans and Sandeep Patil, the national selectors. Wright, who has been appointed the head coach for the Mumbai Indians, would not have wa-nted to miss the chance of watching some of his former players. He could also do with passing on some tips to the selectors, from his successful stint as India coach.
Sehwag’s stomach trouble
The few hundred people at the Wankhede at the start of Day 1 were surprised to see Harbhajan Singh walk out for the toss, instead of Virender Sehwag. As per team officials, the India opener had been nursing a stomach upset since Tuesday night and was attended by doctors. But Vijay said after stumps, “We were told he won't be available only after we reached the ground in the morning.”