A partnership much like a holiday romance
Put M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara alongside each other wearing anything other than cricket whites or training gear and they will have little in common.
Ask them to talk to each other in the language they speak at home and incomprehensibility will rule. There's a very good chance they do not share, leave alone friends, the same taste in food, music, lifestyle or even favourite cricket shots.
What Vijay and Pujara did share on day two in Hyderabad, however, was the ability to sing in perfect sync from the same cricketing sheet. They began with a low sonorous bass all through the first session, but by the time the second new ball was due an hour before stumps, they had hit the high notes.
There was a Test century to each man, Vijay's second, Pujara's fourth and India hoofed across the Australian first innings total. At stumps, India were 311 for 1, ahead of Australia by 74.
A day that began with a session whose scoreline read 49 for 1 in 27 overs, and looked like it was in Australia's favour, was snatched away with India scoring 257 runs in 63 overs after lunch without losing a wicket.
There were two remarkable aspects of Vijay and Pujara's unbeaten 294-run second-wicket partnership. The first was Vijay's ability to meld his batting into a manner of play that, for the better part of two hours, could have belonged to Pujara. The other was Pujara's willingness to absorb, from very early in the day, pain from an injury in his left leg and then spend nearly six hours more at the crease, at times limping and hobbling and diving full length into his crease to ensure he wouldn't lose out on a morning of labour.
The final session of play, when both men completed their centuries as the second new ball neared, generated crowd-pleasing shots. Freebies were gobbled up and 151 runs scored in 30 overs with Australia's bowling looking tattered and mentally frayed. But the foundation of the partnership and indeed its signature, was laid in the first session when the Australian seamers charged in and Vijay and Pujara were willing to grind and defend.
The two strains of effort from Vijay and Pujara have gone to produce one of India's more carefully-structured days of Test cricket in recent years. What is important is that India's innings was not shepherded by a seasoned hand, but batsmen who have played 23 Tests between them.
In the last ten years, recent memory says that India have seen off a tough first session and cashed after lunch only twice. In the Boxing Day Test of 2003-04, Virender Sehwag and Aakash Chopra scored 26 runs off the first 16 overs, went in to lunch at 89 for 0 in 27 overs and India finished the day at 329 for 4.
Six years later, India were 92 for 0 in 18 overs against Sri Lanka in Mumbai at lunch, and followed the next two sessions with 260 for 1 at tea and 443 for 1 by stumps. Sehwag again was the central reason for India's rapid acceleration. By sheer coincidence, his partner in Mumbai happened to be Vijay.
On Sunday, much was in Vijay and Pujara's favour in Hyderabad. They were batting at home, Australia's first innings total - 237 for 9 declared - was miserly and the lateral movement off the wicket was not lethal. What they had to handle though was the early loss of Sehwag, a bowling attack that was fresh, keen and disciplined, and the early morning help for the seamers. By the time the first hour of play was done, India had scored only 26 more runs in the 13 overs bowled in the morning.
Michael Clarke had cut off the single-scoring opportunities, negated the drop-and-run with men at short cover and short midwicket and stuck David Warner in at mid-off to put doubt into the mind of a batsman trying to take the straight, sober single. The batsmen were being challenged to hit corkscrewing shots into the air.
Vijay and Pujara knew this was not the time to hurry. There were no planes, trains or automobiles to be caught. While Pujara, by and large, is neither hurried or lured, it was Vijay, the gung-ho, big hitting opener, who discovered that playing early monk could help.
He got behind the line and defended stoutly on his front foot, swayed away from the short ball and when it followed him, jabbed it down. This is Vijay's comeback series and his hometown Chennai had given him little joy with scores of 10 and 6, dismissed in both innings by James Pattinson.
Hyderabad would have brought some manner of epiphany - he faced 10 overs from Pattinson, scored only 14 runs, but dug out the 140kph yorkers and got out of the way of the beastlier of the short balls.
Pujara, a quiet well-spoken 25-year-old, can be an utter gourmand when it comes to big runs. He has scored them by the bucketful in domestic cricket, knows how to pace an innings in Indian conditions and loves converting scores just like he enjoys consuming runs. Of his five 50 plus scores in Test cricket, Pujara's tally reads, 72, 159, 206*, 135 and now 162 not out. Vijay gave enough glimpses of power and aggression in his innings of 129. But on a day when alter-egos found expression, it was Pujara who hooked Peter Siddle for a six off the second new ball to reach his 150.
Cricketing partnerships can often end up like holiday romances: intense, memorable but transient. India must wish that Hyderabad 2013 is only the start of a beautiful friendship between the two batsmen who have given India all the controls of this Test.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo