Vijay unburnt by Brisbane furnace
It's difficult to think straight on a Brisbane stinker, especially inside the Gabba, which is a bit of a cauldron. Even if the day is breezy - Wednesday wasn't - the wind doesn't make it inside because the stands go straight up, like in a bullring. In the afternoon on the first day of the Test, Channel Nine took a frying pan to the sidelines of the cricket, broke open an egg on it, and it fried. A web forum discussing the weather said swimming pools were good. Good for boiling lobsters. Add the coastal humidity, and it felt like 45 degrees.
In the 38th over of the day, M Vijay tried to sweep Nathan Lyon. The ball wasn't in his reach so he had to stretch more than he would have liked. He ended up with cramp just from the effort. Bowlers fell like ninepins. Drinks came on to the field every 40 minutes in the middle session. Put on armour in such conditions - pads that stifle flow of blood in the legs, a helmet that must feel like an oven in this weather, arm guard, thigh pad, and chest guard - and a batsman is just punishing himself, trying to guard his wicket, and looking to score when even moving a foot forward can be an effort.
On days like these, a batsman can be forgiven a dip or two in concentration. As he went about registering the highest score for a visiting opener in his side's first innings at Gabba, Vijay's concentration wavered more than twice. When Mitchell Johnson bounced him in the morning, he took his eye off the ball. He edged a few wide of gully. He was dropped at slip when Johnson came back for his second spell. He spent 32 balls in the 50s, when he looked edgy, getting frustrated by the excellent ground fielding from Australia's ring fielders, playing and missing, looking for release, which he doesn't usually do at the start of the innings.
Vijay needed some luck to escape those periods of play, and Shaun Marsh provided it early, when he was just 36. That was just after Shikhar Dhawan had got out, moments after India's first 50-run opening stand away from home since Lord's 2011. Vijay had luck when his impatient shots in the 50s didn't go to hand. On 62, he played an ordinary shot against Lyon that looked like going straight to mid-off, but went just wide. In the next over, Mitchell Starc didn't react well to a return catch opportunity. Two balls later Vijay edged over point.
These were mental errors, but were being induced just by the physical exhaustion of being out there and running hard. Josh Hazlewood had cramps all over his body, Mitchell Marsh injured his hamstring and won't bowl any more in this Test, Starc went off for heat exhaustion, Johnson didn't look his own self, but still in that middle session Australia kept a lid on the scoring. Only 62 came during those testing 27 overs for the loss of two wickets. In such heat, with no runs coming, a batsman can feel like he's not getting anywhere despite all the effort and the exhaustion. That's when a loose shot comes in.
M Vijay left a lot of deliveries, but he also hit a lot of boundaries © Getty Images
Having survived that loose period, and solidly defending the last ball of the middle session, Vijay just turned around and rushed to make all of the 20-minute tea break. No niceties here of waiting for his partner, in this case Ajinkya Rahane, who had a horrible start to his innings. He would later say the conditions felt hotter than in India. Sweat almost poured through the helmet and into the eyes, Rahane said.
Vijay said it was tough, but didn't make much of the cramps or the sweat or the numerous glove changes forced by sweat. He said it was tough to concentrate, but that you are expected to toughen up when playing for India. "Cramps and these things will come but that is not going to impact your wicket," Vijay said. "If you think about that, your concentration goes down. If you are tired and cramping, you have got to mentally acclimatise."
Vijay had toughened up when he came back after tea. It was to be a long last session. Last sessions in Australia often change games. Teams in the lead can do a lot of running. Teams sniffing the lead can fall back if they are lax. In that crucial period, a calculated assault followed. Vijay took 14 runs off the first eight balls he faced after the break, off Hazlewood and Johnson. The attack involved driving half-volleys and just throwing his arms at anything short and wide. It was excellent conservation of energy. He had hit eight fours off the first 26 balls he faced.
One of those fours took Vijay from 96 to 100. He didn't react until Rahane told him he had got to the landmark. Vijay said he knew he was approaching the hundred, but didn't know the exact score, which is just as well because he has been out in the 90s three times since the start of the South Africa tour last year, including for 99 in Adelaide.
More than the fours, though, it was remarkable that Vijay was still running hard, still trying to make sure a bowler did not get to isolate a particular batsman. He ran hard not just to get away from the strike, but to get Rahane off it too. At around the 67th over mark, it got a bit too much for Vijay, and he began to attack - take whatever he could before fatigue eventually got him. It did get him on 144, but by that time he had dominated the day, hitting 22 of the 34 boundaries that were hit, and also leaving alone 65 of the 113 deliveries that were left alone. That he could change his game so much, and that he could think clearly in such heat, made this a special innings.