Opener Murali Vijay added to the selection conundrum with a patient 128 and was ably complemented by 'Run Machine' Cheteshwar Pujara's unbeaten 121 as India grinded a mediocre Sri Lankan attack on the second day of the second Test in Nagpur on Saturday. Pujara and Vijay added 209 runs for the second wicket to set a platform from where India would look to bat the Islanders out of the contest. (SCORECARD)
Ending the day at a comfortable 312 for two, the hosts are 107 runs ahead of Sri Lanka's first innings total of 205. (MATCH HIGHLIGHTS)
Playing his first Test match after eight months, Vijay increased the happy headache of the team management as they will be spoilt for choice during the third Test match in Delhi and more importantly, the Test series in South Africa.
With his compact technique, the Tamil Nadu opener is certainly going to have a headstart over his nearest rivals - KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, when the team embarks on the tour to South Africa.
Pujara, who scored his 14th century has skipper Virat Kohli (54 not out) for the company. Kohli is looking good for a big one on the third day and surely would be playing a more attacking role than Pujara, who took 246 balls to reach his century.
With the pitch not offering any assistance to the bowlers, Sri Lankan attack looked pedestrian as the seasoned Indian duo scored runs easily without taking any undue risks.
The Pujara-Vijay combination has been a nemesis for bowlers in the Indian sub-continent with their 10th century stand in longest version. Vijay hit 11 boundaries and a six off 221 deliveries before being dismissed while trying to sweep Rangana Herath.
Pujara batted through the whole day facing 284 balls in which he hit 13 boundaries.
Three more satisfying pieces of statistics is sure to bring a smile to the Indian dressing room. Vijay-Pujara pair score at an average of 73 runs per partnership - highest among all Indian pairs across Test cricket and Saurashtra right-hander has completed 1000 Test runs in 2017.
Pujara-Vijay were also involved in their fourth successive century stand.
Vijay teed off with a glorious square drive off Eden Test hero Suranga Lakmal (0/58), who was far from his best with conditions not aiding his kind of bowling.
For someone who plays the drive fluently, Vijay was time and again provided with loose half-volleys both outside the off-stump and on his legs for him to make full use.
The shot with which Vijay brought up his half-century was a picture perfect straight drive off Dasun Shanaka.
There was a lot of time at India's disposal and that's why the batsmen were in no hurry yet comfortably got their runs. The home team scored at a steady if not breakneck pace but always had control of the proceedings with the three seasons yielding - 301 runs in 90 overs.
The acceleration in the final session was largely due to skipper Kohli's flurry of strokes he hit six boundaries facing 70 balls.
Dinesh Chandimal's decision to bring in his spinners hardly yielded any different result as both looked comfortable reaching to the pitch of the deliveries nullifying any help that they could have possibly got off the pitch.
When Herath (1/45) flighted one inviting Pujara to come out, he promptly did so by flicking it to the vacant mid- wicket boundary. His straight drive off Lakmal was regal as he hit nine fours having faced 183 deliveries.
Vijay on his part gave Herath the charge hitting him for a straight six. He completed his hundred with a push towards long-off of Dilruwan Perera's bowling. He achieved the landmark in 187 deliveries.
Dilruwan (0/117 in 21 overs) could hardly turn a single delivery and was the weak link of the attack leaking runs from one end.
Worse, he was stationed at short mid-on for a specific uppish drive. Vijay did fall into the trap trying to flick Lahiru Gamage and the ball flew towards Dilruwan, who couldn't pouch onto the catch. The Tamil Nadu opener was batting on 61 then.
There wasn't a single wicket-taking delivery from the Lankan attack as they could hardly beat the bat. With no lateral movement on offer and the pitch offering reasonable good bounce and carry, strokeplay became relatively easier.
The fuller length deliveries did not seem to work for them while the trio of Lakmal, Shanaka (0/43 in 13 overs) and Gamage (1/47 in 22 overs) did not have enough pace to trouble the batsmen when they hit back of the length.
On a pitch like this and a toothless attack, Pujara would have always proved to be a handful as he batted with effortless ease. It seemed like he treated the Lankan attack like any other domestic team. There wasn't even a single delivery that could breach Pujaras defence.
(With PTI Inputs)