India vs Australia, 3rd Test: Murali Vijay calms nerves

Vijay (55*) keeps Australia at bay in afternoon session; India 108/1 in reply to hosts’ 1st innings total of 530

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Melbourne | Updated: December 28, 2014 10:28:28 am
India vs Australia, Murali Vijay, Murali Vijay India, India Murali Vijay It was Murali Vijay’s fourth fifty-plus score on this tour. He became the first Indian batsman to do so in Australia. (Source: AP photo)

Bay 13 has realised there’s only one over left in the day. The giant-screen at the MCG has just informed them about it. They’ve been cheering, ranting and bellowing out chants for close to half-an-hour. Their spirits are high. They have been for a while now.

The return of Mitchell Johnson to the bowling crease has given them a whole new decibel. If Australia loves its fast bowlers, Bay 13 at the MCG obsesses over them. It does so throughout the day. But in the last phase of a day’s place, the spectators just go ballistic. Like they had been ever since Johnson had begun steaming in from the Member’s End with eight overs to go for stumps.

The fiery left-armer has given little away to Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara in this final burst of the day. But he’s run in with more gusto and intent than he did in his previous spell with the new-ball. Vijay and Pujara through grit and gumption have kept him at bay too so far.

By now, he’s loose. Bay 13 had loosened up a long time ago. The cheers are getting louder. They’re getting raucous. It’s around this time that Bay 13 starts baying for blood and clamouring for some carnage. Johnson is fired-up. How wouldn’t he be with around a 1000 rasping voices and metronomic thuds of wild hands against plastic chairs serenading him through every step of the run-up?

Till now, not once has a ball reared up on a batsman from a length at the MCG. The first one from Johnson in this final over does. It gets Vijay on the hop. The right-hander is hit on the glove. But by then he’s taken his bottom-hand off the bat. After smashing into his mitts, the ball safely lands in between him and Joe Burns at short-leg. Johnson smiles. Vijay responds. Bay 13 explodes. They go ballistic. The noise is now a crescendo. The Indian fans are trying to compete. But despite being in possession of a dhol, they are of no match. Imagine the sound of a heavy metal drummer pushing the double-bass pedals to the metal. Now accentuate it by a 1000 times. That’s what it is sounding like as Johnson runs in for the second delivery. Again, the ball rises off a slightly shorter length. Vijay rocks back this time. His head, hands, elbow and eyes are all above the ball. The bat comes down straight and the ball falls slightly to the right of him. Pujara is keen on a single.

But Vijay stands firm. He wants to save the day for India. He wants to protect his colleague at the other end. Pujara runs back.

In a state of meditation

Vijay is obviously mindful of what’s to come if he were to succumb. He has to be. At the Gabba, both Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane had fallen to the Johnson surge on the fourth morning. This isn’t the atmosphere for a new batsman to walk out to. It’s intimidating. It’s a cauldron. Behind Kohli and Rahane waits KL Rahul on debut. Yes, India could use a nightwatchman. But how long would Mohammed Shami last against Johnson in this mood?

The third one is a slower one, much to the amazement of Bay 13. It’s like they have completed their “Ohhhhhh..” by the time the ball reaches Vijay. The opener though has read it well. He defends solidly. He’s looked like a saint in a state of meditation at the crease all series. He looks as serene again, absolutely oblivious to all the mayhem and chaos around him.

By now, Channel 9 has caught onto the excitement. They are showing highlights of Dennis Lillee steaming in during the Boxing Day Test of 1981. Australia had had a bad day then. They had been rolled over for 198 by the mighty West Indies. Riled up by the crowd, Lillee had then taken four wickets, including that of Viv Richards bowled in the final over. The commentators talk about how Bay 13 had kept roaring and chanting Lillee’s name for an hour after the Richards dismissal.

They are hoping for an encore. So are the fanatical Aussies in Bay 13. Vijay sees off the next three deliveries too without much fuss. They include one short-of-length delivery that the right-hander defends, and two slightly outside off that he shoulders-arms to. Vijay survives.

India survive. Bay 13 grimaces. They’ve given their all in trying to forge a breakthrough for Johnson and Australia by their sheer enthusiasm. But it isn’t to be. Then they go back to screaming “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”. As it ended, the visitors were 108/1, still trailing by 422 runs but yet not in the kind of disarray that they were expected to be in.

Opener, anchor

Not for the first time this tour, Vijay had held the Indian innings together through a tough period, a perilous phase. For after having been pummelled in the field during the first two sessions of the day, India looked ripe for the taking. But Vijay had come in the way of the Aussies again.

If Johnson was quick, Ryan Harris and Josh Hazlewood had been incisive and penetrative. They had swung the ball, and got it to move off the MCG pitch. They had tested Vijay and Pujara, and asked a plethora of probing questions along the way. But the duo had somehow thwarted their charge.

He finished the day unbeaten on 55, making him the first Indian opener to cross the half-century mark on four occasions on a tour Down Under, and the first since probably Virender Sehwag to cement himself at the spot with such authority.

As for Bay 13, they’ll be back again on Sunday, as loud as ever and up for a battle. Thanks to Vijay, so will India.

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