Bonds strong, results weak for Vijay and Dhawan
When Shikhar Dhawan hit an innocuous full toss back at Moeen Ali at Trent Bridge he had fallen one short of what would have been his and M Vijay's first 50-run opening stand outside Asia in 14 innings together. The 49 in what began mostly as a dead innings remains their highest outside Asia. The longest the opposition has had to wait for a wicket is 14 overs.
Opening partners are usually good mates. They look out for each other. They are open with each other. They don't mind letting each other know of their insecurities, their fears. Matthew Hayden used to say he and Justin Langer were almost like a couple. Might have good times, might have bad, but there for each other.
Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are friends off the field. Sehwag never minded asking Gambhir to take most of the strike when chasing a small total because Sehwag had a streak of losing interest when not facing a big task and thus throwing his wicket away. "Whenever I go onto the field and I have Sehwag at the other end, it gives me a lot of confidence," Gambhir once said. "No doubts about that. He has been one of my very good friends."
Vijay and Dhawan wouldn't have been great friends when they were picked to open the innings for Rest of India against Mumbai early in 2013. They had played against each other plenty of times in domestic cricket but had batted with each other only once in first-class cricket and four times in List A. They had both been in and out of the Indian team, and quite a few would have thought their best cricket had come and left them.
Vijay had scored 138 runs at 17.25 in Ranji Trophy yet had been picked in the Rest of India squad. Dhawan had been better, but 461 runs at 51.22 in Ranji Trophy is hardly the look-at-me-I'm-here stuff. Vijay was 29, Dhawan was 27. This punt from the new selectors allowed them a new lease of life. The existing India openers, though, were on their way out. Some might argue they should have been out earlier. These two now added 144. Vijay got a hundred, Dhawan a half-century, both were given what might have been one last India chance, and they added 289. They might not have known each other well earlier, but their comeback began together; a bond had been built.
By the time India went on to win their first overseas Test in three years - at Lord's - you could see the two were looking out for each other. When, fielding in the slips, Dhawan has something stuck in his eye, Vijay rushed to pluck it out. Vijay had batted exceptionally well at Lord's but had fallen five short of a century. When the win was achieved, Vijay looked to settle into the background in the celebrations, but Dhawan went back, plucked a stump and handed it over to Vijay. A quiet little acknowledgement from an opening batsman to the other when he might have been lost in the euphoria of Ishant Sharma and the bouncers.
Who knows they might have even have talked of a more public satisfaction when they score runs together. They haven't. In the last seven Tests, India have been 22 for 1 on an average. Vijay has scored runs in South Africa and here, Dhawan in New Zealand, but not together. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have been walking in to face tricky circumstances. "It is frustrating," Dhawan said of the lack of runs between the two. "Vijay has been batting really well, but unfortunately I haven't contributed much. I have been working hard on my game, sometimes you can't do much when you get out to good balls."
But the bond between Vijay and Dhawan has remained. The two look out for each other, running almost in Twenty20 fashion, pouncing on every slight opportunity they might get of getting the other guy off strike, making the bowler change his line of attack from a right-hand batsman to a left-hand batsman or the other way around. In the second innings here, with India needing a long opening stand to give them any hope of saving the Test, they were watchful, they ran 14 of the 26 runs together, they had seen off what looked like the first spells of Anderson and Stuart Broad. With the last ball of his sixth over, Anderson had sent square leg back, and Dhawan bunted one in that direction for a single. Singles, the building block these two have been after.
To the first ball of a bowler other than Anderson and Broad, Dhawan bunted one towards square leg again. Broad wasn't at the boundary this time, but was a little deep. This single was fair game for the pair. Dhawan set off right away, Vijay hesitated mildly. Yet they were making it comfortably. Vijay took it easy in the end. A moment of switching off. No stretch, no desperation to get the bat in. The bad Vijay, who takes catches casually, who takes his eye off the ball in the field. Not the one who has been leaving balls like his life depends on him. Not the one who has been sprinting hard to get his partner off strike. And bang, Broad hits the stumps direct. Well, not quite bang. The bails came off softly. They took their time. It will make Vijay even more distraught when he sees the replay.
For all their looking out for each other, Vijay and Dhawan have still not added fifty in an innings outside Asia. Pujara, who might have wanted to walk in at a big score for one, should be so lucky.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo