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By Vincent Sunder
Murali Vijay isn’t quite a poster boy in the Indian cricket team. There would be not much of a flutter if he is left out of the playing eleven or even discarded from the squad. His failures tend to bring about scorn as well as joy. Part of the negativity around Vijay could be owing to non-cricketing reasons as well, the social media not missing out any opportunity to hit below the belt when an occasion presented itself!
He had a poor tour of the West Indies in 2011 and had forgettable outings in New Zealand in early 2014. But for some of these lows which also include a poor outing against South Africa in India in 2010 and a poor Test against Proteas in the Rainbow Nation later that year, Vijay has a decent Test record.
As the five-match Test series began and the all-important Day One of the series dawned, a day that could set the tone for the series began, Vijay opened the innings with a fortuitous four. The delivery he attempted to withdraw his bat from, its line went to the third-man boundary. The next ball went through the fourth slip region for another boundary. Not very convincing, though a stroke that had some intent. A clip off the pads to the next delivery was a touch shot and 12 runs had come off the first overs. The initial indecisiveness quickly changed. Poise returned as he middled the ball with assurance and he was almost at a run-a-ball approaching his 30s.
From a comfortable 106 for one, the complexion of the game changed in three overs after lunch. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli, the two batsmen expected to form the bulwark of the new Indian batting line-up departed in successive overs. Another wicket looked imminent as Stuart Broad and James Anderson turned in probing spells. An early wicket or two could have opened the flood gates that would have probably left India not pushed to the rope but flattened to the ground.
Vijay was past his 50 when things changed, but a rebuilding of the innings was necessary. Vijay rose to the occasion. His judgement of the deliveries to leave was spot on. When the ball rose he swayed out of line, the wrists bringing the bat safely down, no ugly periscope on display. When defending, it was with the sweet spot of the bat. The dipping run-rate in his partnership with Ajinkya Rahane elicited some reaction from the commentators as well as social media, but Vijay displayed exemplary temperament. As the day progressed, it was a display of sold defense, great judgment to either leave deliveries outside his zone or sway out of those directed at his upper body. The touch player’s strokes came on display when the opportunity presented itself.
After Vijay punched a sweetly timed boundary to move to 99, came a time of torrid test. Liam Plunkett steamed in at him with a series of short deliveries. Swaying out of the way, dropping wrists, getting up on his toes to defend — Vijay demonstrated sound temperament to weather down the challenge and it took another 13 deliveries before he reached the three-figure mark with a close single. No wild celebrations, but a quick look to check if his captain MS Dhoni had made it to the other end.
The aggressive Dhoni innings should have brought him some relief. Vijay, after experiencing a slice of luck with an edge off Anderson falling short at slips, continued in the same vein for the rest of the day.
For a side that have been slow and poor starters overseas, India ended the Day One of a long five-match Test series tour on a satisfactory note at 259 for four. And kudos is due in no small measure to Vijay’s fine exhibition of batting as an opener. An innings that would have had the likes of Sunil Gavaskar himself applauding.
Some milestones could have a marked change in the career of sportsmen. Time will tell if the first overseas hundred, on an easy-paced wicket, but an innings that threw up challenges nevertheless, would change what lies ahead for the better in terms of Vijay’s career. For those who saw the innings, it would be an effort that will be fondly remembered for a long time.
(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play gully cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his high from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)
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