No other Indian pair has come close to those numbers. Over a three-year period when they helped India get to the No.1 ranking in Tests, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag averaged 52.52 while aggregating 4,412 runs. Of the 87 innings in which they batted together, there were 11 century stands.
Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara don’t enjoy anything like the same profile as Tendulkar, Dravid and Sehwag. But since they first batted together in the Bangalore Test against Australia in 2010, they have slowly built up an irresistible case to be considered one of the game’s greatest double-acts.
Neither has been an ever-present, even when fit, in the Indian line-up. Before the Nagpur game, Vijay had played just 51 Tests and Pujara 52. Ajinkya Rahane, who made his debut more than four years after Vijay and two and a half years after Pujara, has already racked up 41 caps. But it’s what they’ve done together that sets Vijay and Pujara apart.
Statistically, they put Tendulkar and Dravid in the shade. The 209 they added on the second day in Nagpur took them to 2740 runs from just 38 innings, at an incredible average of 72.10. Of those that have added more than 2500 runs, only four pairs average more – Jack Hobbs-Herbert Sutcliffe (3339 at 87.86), Justin Langer-Ricky Ponting (3451 at 82.16), Mohammad Yousuf-Younis Khan (3137 at 78.42) and Jacques Kallis-AB de Villiers (3108 at 75.8).
Vijay and Pujara have now managed 10 century partnerships, while crossing 50 on another 19 occasions. That is an astonishing conversation rate, and all the more surprising because their methods are fairly similar. Pujara has scored marginally faster over the course of his career, but these are two men at ease with Test cricket’s old-world rhythms, who still subscribe to notions that other top-order batsmen of the present vintage have abandoned.
In the first hour of play, India managed just 32 runs. After lunch, they were nearly as slow, adding 39 before drinks. But what makes both men such effective Test players is the ability to cash in on bad bowling and catch up. On a day when Lahiru Gamage and Rangana Herath gave nothing away, and Suranga Lakmal threatened periodically, Vijay and Pujara bided their time.
During periods when the scoreboard operators had little to do, the duo didn’t get flustered. That isn’t their way. It took Vijay 112 balls to bring up his half-century. Of the next 109 he faced, he scored 75. Pujara needed 145 balls for his 50. After that, he struck 71 off 139, playing his part in a dominant final session that saw India score 127.
For the team management, you can understand the lure of men like Shikhar Dhawan and even Rohit Sharma, who have the ability to transform a match in a session. But 140 years after the first Test was played, it remains a game of partnerships, with both bat and ball. And when it comes to putting up the big runs and wearing down the opposition, Pujara and Vijay have few equals.
Of their three-figure partnerships, only one has come overseas. That was at Kingsmead in Durban in 2013. With South Africa now the focus for the team management, Vijay in particular has given Messrs. Kohli and Shastri an interesting selection headache. It’s hard to see how India can entertain notions of a historic first victory in the Cape without their premier partnership.
First Published: November 26, 2017, 8:16 AM IST