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The Report by Siddarth Ravindran
December 26, 2013
India 181 for 1 (Vijay 91*, Pujara 58*) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Match Point: Players taken off too soon
The last time India played a Test in Durban, it was a quick green track where a score of 205 proved enough for a significant first-innings lead. Three years on, there was precious little in the dry surface for the fast bowlers, and both captains were enthusiastic about batting first. MS Dhoni called correctly, and the India's batsmen flourished on the flat deck, with M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara putting on an unbroken 140-run stand for the second wicket.
Vijay won't want 2013 to end. The year began with a surprise call-up to the Indian Test squad, which he answered with a couple of 150-plus scores against Australia, and is now ending with performances in South Africa that will earn him respect from a legion of doubters. The innings in Johannesburg showed his ability to graft, and the same patience and application - not words usually associated with Vijay - were in evidence early on in Durban as well as he ended the day nine away from a first Test century away from home.
Pujara, who has already established a reputation as a batsman who loves to score big, was almost anonymous as he cruised to another half-century. Almost all his runs against the quicks were scored on the leg side, cashing in when the bowlers strayed on his pads. This was also different from his soak-up-the-pressure effort in the second innings at the Wanderers as, realising conditions were favourable, he scored at a more nimble pace from the start. It nudged his career average above 70, and extended perhaps the most successful start to a Test career since Michael Hussey's.
Things didn't go to plan for South Africa right from the outset. In the search for swing early on, the ball was pitched up and punished by some non-violent punches down the ground for four from both Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay.
Vernon Philander, who earlier this week ascended to No. 1 in the Test bowling rankings, got only three overs before South Africa turned to the pacier, dig-it-in approach of Morne Morkel. If there were doubts over whether Morkel would hit full speed after an astonishingly quick recovery from an ankle strain suffered last week, they were put aside as he steamed in for a spell full of 90mph deliveries.
Dale Steyn, coming off a mediocre Test in Johannesburg, also switched to the fast-and-furious strategy after realising there wasn't much chance of the ball jagging around. In tandem, Steyn and Morkel produced a short, intense burst that tested both openers' techniques around off stump.
Dhawan had galloped to 28 off 36 before being tied down and losing his concentration after the drinks break, nicking the first ball to the cordon.
Vijay was more watchful, and though he was beaten several times and took blows to the box and the arm, he persevered. One of the highlights of his innings was the way he handled the short ball; with the surface providing no lateral movement, there were plenty of bouncers, but Vijay was rarely troubled, and decisively ducked or swayed out of the way. The impressive discipline he had shown in Johannesburg reappeared, as did a few of the stylish boundaries he is renowned for. His 91 included 17 boundaries, and he was particularly severe on left-arm spinner Robin Peterson, who came in for the erratic Imran Tahir.
The early short burst from Steyn and Morkel was the only time South Africa managed to apply any pressure on India. After lunch, it was all too easy for Vijay and Pujara. There was a boundary an over to start the session, as India motored along at four an over.
Steyn's wicketless spell has now stretched beyond 60 overs, Philander had no help whatsoever from the surface, and though Morkel produced a few moments of discomfort, there was no breakthrough.
One thing common to the 2010 Durban Test was the bad light that stopped play early. Even as Steyn was getting the ball to reverse in, the murky conditions led to play being called off soon after tea.
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Siddarth Ravindran
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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