Murali Vijay's Patient Innings Needs to Continue for India to Win Lord's Test

Jaideep VaidyaAnalyst IJuly 19, 2014

India's Murali Vijay plays a shot off the bowling of England's James Anderson during the third day of the second test match between England and India at Lord's cricket ground in London, Saturday, July 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press

Opener Murali Vijay's watchful unbeaten half-century and a stiff and scruffy resistance by skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni late into the day meant that India managed to maintain the game at a tantalising balance going into Day 4, with a lead of 145 runs with six wickets in hand.

At the tea break, India were in the front seat and had tightly locked themselves in it, with two of their most patient batsmen at the crease.

Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara aren't the most excitable batsmen in the world. On Saturday afternoon, the duo got together for a stubborn and extremely vigilant partnership in the afternoon session to calmly build India's lead.

The London sun had melted away any possibility of thunderstorms which were predicted earlier in the day. Coupled with a stiff resistance from the away team's batsmen, the effect was immediately noticeable on some of the members of the crowd at Lord's, who took the opportunity to unabashedly grab 40 winks.

Perhaps that was a bit too harsh on Vijay and Pujara, whose innings were a masterclass on how to grind out a Test knock for your team when it's most needed, however dreary as it may appear to a neutral watcher.

Rarely did they wander off to the extravagant. The boundaries were scarce and countable on one hand. If Pujara's share were silken, elegant and opportune, Vijay's were plain and reliant on pure timing. 

They were in a zone of their own and probably wouldn't have noticed if the entire crowd was snoring. Their objective was not to entertain; it was to see themselves through to the end of the day unbeaten.

However, patient batting comes with its risks. The slightest of lapses in concentration can cause 110 for one to become 120 for four before you know it. Unfortunately for the visitors, that is exactly what happened in the third session.

Liam Plunkett, who had spent the entire series executing leg theory and fruitlessly bowling short to the batsmen from around the wicket, finally came to his senses after tea. He bowled a lot fuller from over the wicket, the natural angle, and immediately reaped rewards.

Liam Plunkett celebrates one of his twin dismissals.
Liam Plunkett celebrates one of his twin dismissals.Stu Forster/Getty Images

Pujara was the first to fall, to an uncharacteristic swipe at a delivery outside off-stump which you would expect him to leave even in his sleep.

Then, on the very next ball, Virat Kohli showed Pujara how to sway arms to a delivery. Unfortunately, it was the wrong delivery to do so as it jagged back in and took the top of off-stump. With a golden duck to his name at Lord's, Kohli's nightmare series continued, and India were suddenly in a spot of bother.

A spot of bother was to transform into a lot of trouble moments later when Stuart Broad, charged up with Plunkett's twin dismissals, banged it in short and had Ajinkya Rahane awkwardly fending for it.

Matt Prior catches Ajinkya Rahane off what turned out to be the arm guard.
Matt Prior catches Ajinkya Rahane off what turned out to be the arm guard.Stu Forster/Getty Images

The ball clipped what looked like his arm guard and lobbed up into the air toward short square leg where Matt Prior swooped in and took a diving catch. England and Lord's went up in hopeful appeal in unison and to Rahane's horror, umpire Bruce Oxenford raised his finger, agreeing that it had hit the glove.

India's first-innings centurion was gone for an unlucky five; India were wobbling at 123 for four, with a precarious lead of just 99 and had no way to challenge the decision. They had opted out of the technology to do so long ago.

Meanwhile, Vijay watched the unfolding of his team's batting line-up from the other end, probably wondering if his long and hard vigil had been worth it. He was soon joined by his skipper, who was perhaps the last reliable hope in rebuilding the innings.

Broad continued to pepper the new batsman with short balls, a deviation from his earlier, much successful, tactic of enticing Dhoni to swipe at fullish deliveries outside off-stump to induce a nick.

MS Dhoni provided a few heart-in-mouth moments for Indian fans.
MS Dhoni provided a few heart-in-mouth moments for Indian fans.Kirsty Wigglesworth/Associated Press/Associated Press

Dhoni, who is known to play stubborn innings himself in Test matches, took it to the chin—and on one occasion hard on the biceps—and continued to walk the swaying tightrope blindfolded.

The next half-hour or so until stumps would have been the most tormenting one for Indian fans, as their skipper looked like he was batting on a frying pan, awkwardly hopping, ducking and walking away to his right to reveal his stumps, as if inviting the hosts to take his wicket.

Vijay, meanwhile, shaken as he may have been with the proceedings, refused to show it as he carried on with his vigil, his focus fixed on the finish line like a race horse.

He brought up his sixth Test half-century with a whip off the hips to fine-leg for a boundary—one of the very few—off James Anderson. It had taken him 162 deliveries and 249 minutes.

And so, in their own innate ways, Vijay and Dhoni managed to make it to stumps unscathed, stretching India's lead to 145. They would know that the job is far from done; in fact they're only about halfway there.

England's highest successful run chase at Lord's is 282, achieved a decade ago. Their highest fourth-innings total at the venue is 307. India need to at least double their lead if they want some feeling of security when they go out to defend their target.

Vijay plays one of his few attacking strokes on Day 3.
Vijay plays one of his few attacking strokes on Day 3.Stu Forster/Getty Images

A lot depends on how far these two can carry on Sunday. Ravindra Jadeja, Stuart Binny and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are still to come, but they aren't know to play the patient innings.

England are bound to continue to attack the batsmen, knowing that they are in with a chance of grabbing the reins of this Test match from India's now fragile hold.

A lot depends on whether Vijay, who has played so defiantly to protect his wicket until now, can reform that bubble around him on Day 4. He has already batted four-and-three-quarters of an hour for his 59. He will be required to bat for at least half the time on Sunday if not more.

Vijay has scored four centuries in a 23-Test career so far; a fifth, should he get there and more importantly take India's lead past 300, could turn out to be a career-defining one.

All statistics via ESPN Cricinfo, unless otherwise stated.