Murali Vijay's last Test ton came 17 months back against Bangladesh    Getty Images
Murali Vijay’s last Test ton came 17 months back against Bangladesh Getty Images

Murali Vijay has been one of India s mainstays over the last three years or so. His temperament, shot selection and concentration has made him one of the best opening batsmen India have at present. With increase in competition for the opening slot, Vijay will have to score big in the opportunities he gets during the series against England. If he fails, players like KL Rahul and Gautam Gambhir will grab that opportunity and it might become difficult for him to return to the Indian side. Vijay was injured after the first Test against West Indies and it was surely not easy for him to win his place back. An injury to Shikhar Dhawan brought him back for the Port of Spain Test and then played all three Tests against New Zealand that followed. Full Cricket Scorecard: India vs England 1st Test at Rajkot

He scored a couple of fifties in the first Test at Kanpur against New Zealand and crucial ones at that. But then he faded away in the remaining two Tests, scoring 9, 7, 10 and 19 in the next four innings. When Vijay gets a hundred, he gets a big one. That has been the trend in his Test career so far. His six hundreds include scores of 139, 167, 153, 146, 144 and 150. The 150 was the last century he scored for India and it came over 17 months back in the one-off Test against Bangladesh at Fatullah. Since then he has scored just four fifties in his 16 innings, which is not good for a batsman of his quality. Here is where the problem lies (for Vijay at least). Just when one would have thought that Vijay and Dhawan are the only quality openers at India s disposal, few other names have emerged.

It is indeed a pity that KL Rahul was out after playing just one Test against New Zealand. He was in terrific form before that. He registered scores of 150, 50 and 28 in the Caribbean. He then played an explosive innings in the USA against West Indies in a T20I. The stage was set for Rahul to stamp his authority in the Test series against New Zealand. He scored a brisk 32 and 38 in the first and second innings respectively in the Kanpur Test. That helped someone like Vijay, who is a slow starter to settle down and not worry about runs as Rahul was scoring at a good pace. READ: IND vs ENG: 5 bowlers including Mishra, Ishant should be way ahead for hosts at Rajkot

But then Vijay had to play alongside two different openers in the next two Tests. He opened with an under-fire Shikhar Dhawan in the next Test and then followed it up by opening with Gautam Gambhir, playing his first Test in three years in the next. He never got going in either of them and fell cheaply.

There is little doubt that Dhawan and Vijay have stitched a successful opening partnership. But India are surely not short of options. In the recent past there has been a debate of who will play in the No. 6 position or who will be Rohit Sharma s long-term replacement in Tests. But very less has been talked about the opening slot conundrum.

For now, the opening batsmen will be Vijay and Dhawan, but by no stretch of imagination do they have a permanent spot. But for now, let us focus on Vijay as Dhawan and Rahul have not been picked for the first two Tests. READ: England tour of India: All you need to know

With Rahul and Dhawan out, Vijay and Gambhir will be India s openers by default. Not to forget, India have Cheteshwar Pujara as well. He has done well in the limited opportunities in the opening slot, but that however seems to be a bit unlikely. Vijay will have to score and score big in the first two Tests. This will be the first Test ever in Rajkot and Vijay has never played a Test in Vishakapatnam, the venue for the second Test. Vijay will feel the pressure in the series. He has not scored big in some time now, something that he probably has thought about. With the New Zealand series done and dusted, he can now take positives from those innings and apply them in the series against England. Vijay has never played England in India, but he averages over 40 against them in the five matches he has played against them something that many in the team, including his skipper Virat Kohli do not boast of.

Another advantage for Vijay will be the fact that he does not have to come up against James Anderson at least for the first two Tests. But he will have to face Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes and Ben Stokes, who have been in fine form with the ball. Not to forget, If England open with spinners, he will have to deal with Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid and Azfar Ansari or even Gareth Batty. Spinners have not been tried and tested in these conditions, although they did do a fair job in Bangladesh. READ: Karun s consistency makes him favourite to earn Test cap

Vijay will not want to face the axe, like he did in 2011 after a string of poor performances. But he cam back a better batsman after that and started off with a magnificent 167 against Australia in 2013, almost two years after he played his last Test. Things got better for him, when he scored 153 in the very next innings and followed it up with a 146 against England at Nottingham. What one could notice is the fact that Vijay mastered the art of knowing where his off stump was. As a result, he was more aware of which balls to play and which ones to leave. By doing so, he forces the bowlers to bowl at his strengths and once he is in, he is able to put the ball away. England skipper Alastair Cook to resurrected his Test career after a lean patch, but doing something similar. He left the balls outside off and when the bowlers tried to overcompensate, they drifted on to his pads and he would just flick them away.

It is time for Vijay to once again reassess what he needs to do to score big. If he fails to the selectors may not hesitate on finding an alternative, considering India have a long home season ahead of them.

(Pramod Ananth is a reporter at CricketCountry.com. He is a sports enthusiast and a keen observer of cricket, the contests, and its personalities. When not tracking cricket, he follows the world s soccer leagues and is somewhat partial towards Liverpool. His Twitter handle is @pramz)