It’s been a little over five months since the last Irani Cup, but judging from the way M Vijay batted on Tuesday (February 6) at the Wankhede Stadium, he was simply carrying on from where he left off. Vijay had scored 266 against Rajasthan in September 2012, and against Mumbai, the 2012-13 Ranji champions, he scored a sparkling 116 that was the cornerstone of Rest of India’s 330 for five in 90 overs after the first day’s play.
Half-centuries from Shikhar Dhawan (63) and Ambati Rayudu (51) propped Rest of India up, but with a few wickets gifted rather than earned, they would be disappointed with how the day ended. Vijay, who had a lucky break when caught behind off a no-ball on 79 off Shardul Thakur, started cautiously. But when he settled, his batting was a treat to watch, with the ball caressed rather than thumped.
The day didn’t begin well for Rest of India, with Virender Sehwag ruled out of the match because of an upset stomach and Harbhajan Singh was left to lead. Abhishek Nayar, the Mumbai captain, won the toss and chose to bowl first on a pitch that was expected to aid seamers early on. Although there was a covering of grass the expected help wasn’t forthcoming. Mumbai’s bowlers were also guilty of squandering what assistance was there with wayward lines, on which Vijay and Dhawan capitalised.
Dhawal Kulkarni bowled a probing opening spell, and for most of the first hour, Vijay and Dhawan were content to pick the odd boundary where available and run ones and twos. The introduction of Thakur into the attack saw both men creaming him for sumptuous boundaries in front and square of the wicket, to give Rest of India impetus, and forced Nayar to employ defensive fields for the best part of the day, with hardly any men close in. Thakur’s first two overs went for 25 runs and the batsmen scored more freely after that.
Kulkarni’s subsequent spells didn’t have the same zip, and the inexperience of Mumbai’s attack against seasoned batsmen showed. Vijay reached his half-century with an expansive cover drive that had class all over it, and Dhawan reached his fifty soon after in an equally imperious manner, pulling Kulkarni in front of square.
At 130 for no loss in 35 overs at lunch, it promised to be a long day for Mumbai, but Dhawan threw away a golden opportunity to make big runs with all five national selectors watching, inside-edging Thakur onto his stumps soon after lunch with the score at 144.
Manoj Tiwary, returning after a long injury lay-off, looked tentative at the start, but progressed well, before becoming Nayar’s first victim, lbw for 37. Nayar was Mumbai’s most consistent bowler, and got the old ball to reverse, which accounted for Vijay just after tea to leave Mumbai 231 for three.
Rayudu, who was dropped when Nayar threw the ball to Rohit Sharma, with neither Aditya Tare, the wicketkeeper, nor Wasim Jaffer at first slip holding on to the edge, didn’t make Mumbai pay dearly. He fell in the same fashion off Rohit soon after his half-century, and Kulkarni’s late strike to remove Wriddhiman Saha ensured Mumbai ended the day on a positive note.
But, on the day, Vijay was the undoubted star. The double century in the previous Irani apart, he’s had a very lean season for Tamil Nadu, and this knock, coming after a fine 76 for India A against England a month ago, will ensure that he keeps his place as the first in line as a reserve opening batsman.