Hyderabad: Upwards of 30,000 fans had gathered at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Uppal on a blisteringly hot day in anticipation of an Indian run fest, with Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar at the forefront. Only half their hopes were answered, but no one was complaining.
It wasn't the glorious past that warmed the cockles on a remarkably one-sided 90 overs of action, Sehwag falling cheaply and Tendulkar not even walking out to bat. Instead, the promising future put its hand up and asked to be counted. Murali Vijay, probably fighting for his Test spot, and Cheteshwar Pujara, determined to add to his growing reputation as one of the finest young batsmen in world cricket, drove India to the ascendancy on Day 2 of the second Test on Sunday (March 3), all but batting Australia out of the game.
Overnight five without loss in response to Australia's 237 for 9 declared, India weathered the early storm brilliantly as the two young batsmen made light of another failure for Sehwag. The first session was devoted to ensuring Australia made no futher inroads. Post lunch, it was time to cash in, and Vijay and Pujara did so in stunning style on their way to classy centuries that catapulted India to 311 for 1 at stumps, already ahead by 74 with plenty of batting and time at their disposal.
Vijay and Pujara have already added 294 with the promise of more to come, putting to shade India's previous best for the second wicket against Australia, 224 between Sunil Gavaskar and Mohinder Amarnath at the SCG in 1986.
Not often in recent times have India put up such a dominating batting performance, even on home soil, orchestrated by two men relatively young in international cricket. Vijay, 28, was playing his 14th Test while Pujara, 25, was in his 11th. They were united after Sehwag followed a delivery from Peter Siddle that jagged away from a crack and got big on him into Matthew Wade's gloves, and for most of the rest of the day, they batted with rare composure, poise and authority.
Batting wasn't as easy as Vijay and Pujara made it out to be. There still was movement off a surface that had dried up even more than the previous day, and there was some assistance for the spinners. James Pattinson, Siddle and Moises Henriques were negotiated with great care and circumspection, while the assortment of spinners was handled with disdainful arrogance even though Xavier Doherty occasionally got the ball to grip, and turn and jump alarmingly off a length.
The second-wicket pair paced itself to a nicety, having come out with a clear game plan and determined to stick to it, no matter what. Aware of the genuine threat from Pattinson and Siddle, they played out the session to lunch with complete disregard to the scoreboard. Only 49 runs came for the loss of Sehwag's wicket in 27 overs in the first two hours, and while it appeared at times as if the pair was being overcautious, that approach was to pay rich dividend as the day panned out.
Each over negotiated successfully meant mounting frustration in the Australian camp. Australia's designs had revolved around a couple of early breakthroughs to put pressure on the middle order, and they appeared on track when Siddle got rid of Sehwag, whose place must surely be under severe threat now. However, they ran into a brick wall in Vijay and Pujara, every question met with a precise answer.
Vijay is an immensely gifted batsman, easy on the eye and with every shot in the book, but he has been culpable of throwing his hand away far too often. He will be the first to acknowledge that he hasn't played a more important innings in his life. There was economy of movement, very little extravagance even late in the day, a steely resolve that was obvious from a 100 yards away, and a marked propensity to play close to his body that was conspicuously absent in the first Test. His footwork was more decisive, as was his judgement of length. The manner in which he easily swayed out of the way of well-directed short stuff from Pattison and Siddle showed that here was a batsman in complete command of his game.
As the afternoon sun beat down relentlessly, Vijay played handsome strokes through the covers and midwicket, and used his feet excellently to hit Doherty over the top with minimum fuss. A second Test hundred was greeted with muted exuberance, another positive sign because Vijay knew the job was far from finished.
Pujara has made it a habit of scoring hundreds, and scoring them big. This was his fourth ton - he has just one half-century - and it was another fluent compilation during which the only thing that troubled him was a leg injury picked up while diving in to make his crease early in his knock. Otherwise, both in defence and in attack, he was a picture of correctness and assurance, playing every shot in the book and making hay when Glenn Maxwell and David Warner, Australia's part-time spinners, rolled their arms over.
Pujara began with a crisp clip that raced away to the midwicket boundary off his first delivery faced, but he had only reach 15 off 55 deliveries at lunch. After the interval, he cut loose with a flurry of fours, targeting bowlers by turns. He first picked on Pattinson, smashing him for three fours in one over, then firmly put Maxwell in his place with wonderful use of the feet to drive him inside-out through cover and mid-off. There were crunching cuts off the quicks and the spinners, delicate dabs to third man, caresses through the covers and one sensational pull off Siddle, operating with the second new ball, that showed exactly who the boss was as India rattled up 151 in the session after tea from 30 overs.