It’s taken Murali Vijay a little over four years to establish himself at the top of the Indian order in Tests. Of course, his position is by no means secure just yet, but only an injury, or a bizarre game plan, can prevent him from opening in South Africa later this year. Replacing players the calibre of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag was never going to be a walkover, since comparisons notwithstanding, the task of arresting the team’s slump was also partially thrust upon his shoulders. To pass this litmus test with flying colours requires character, and Vijay has shown a good chunk of just that.
Opening alongside Sehwag during the first Test at Chennai, it appeared as though Vijay was still travelling down the slippery slope on the big stage. After a sublime 139 against the Ricky Ponting-led Australian side in 2010, he scored just 116 runs in his next 10 innings and, was out of reckoning thereafter. Only after the consistent failures of one of the regular openers was he drafted back into the team, thanks to some tremendous knocks in the domestic arena. He didn’t exude confidence in the Chennai Test. However, from the next game onward, his decision to stay at the wicket for as long as possible certainly paid rich dividends.
It had been some time since the Indian top-order offered the kind of resilience that was on display during the second Test at Hyderabad. Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara not only sped to their second and fourth Test centuries respectively, but they sucked every inch of hope from the Australians. No other opposition was taken to task in such a severe manner by an Indian line-up during recent times. Solidity at the top is what usually propels India, and that Vijay played a vital role in this process of recuperation is noteworthy.
A fine aspect of Vijay’s batting has been his ability to alter the tempo. If runs are flowing freely off his partner’s willow at the other end, he is happy to play second fiddle. This was demonstrated at Hyderabad, for when Pujara started tearing into the Australian bowling attack, Vijay sealed the other side. Together, they pummelled 370 runs for the second wicket and, literally batted Australia out of the game. This scenario was also replicated at Mohali, where Shikhar Dhawan, a debutant, belted his way to a hundred, but Vijay remained unflustered and, more importantly, did not try to match the southpaw’s pyrotechnics.
The balanced demeanour is also visible in his individual innings. While his strike rate may usually hover around the late forties and early fifties, he doesn’t hold back if there’s a chance to play a lofted shot, even when approaching a coveted landmark.This was seen in Hyderabad, where his exemplary footwork against Xavier Doherty was put to good use, as he hoisted the ball towards long-off to get to his hundred. Even at Mohali, he took over the mantle once Dhawan departed, scoring 55 of the 92 runs in the partnership with Sachin Tendulkar. It’s hence fair to say that his adaptability is commendable.
Whether Vijay can flourish with his repertoire of strokes against quality attacks, and away from the comfortable confines of home, remains to be seen. Krishnamachari Srikkanth, the former India opener and chairman of the previous selection committee, said recently: “I am glad that Vijay has scored a big one in the last Test but he will have to continue firing against the best teams in the world. Though, he hasn't got too many chances abroad, his real test will be against South Africa. Vijay is a fluent stroke-maker and has the potential to make it big, but consistency is very important. However, going by how Vijay has recently weathered the likes of Peter Siddle, Mitchell Starc and James Pattinson, nonchalantly pulling and hooking at appropriate junctures of the game, there is little doubt that he can be a handful, but with a similar kind of application.
The Australians, though, would have rued the absence of Pattinson in Mohali. The seamer had accounted for Vijay twice in two innings at Chennai — bowling him out with a tearaway yorker in the first before having him caught by Moises Henriques in the second. The battle between the two would have made for an arresting contest, but we will have to wait till the Delhi Test commences for it to ensue.
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/
First Published: March 18, 2013, 11:20 am