The rise of the ‘monk’, Murali Vijay

Indian batsmen in the recent times have made a name for themselves for their style and aggression which makes them dominate bowlers. However, there’s one man who has managed to alter his natural game in order to suit the team requirements. Despite of being under the shadows of the bigger names, over the last two years Murali Vijay has emerged as one of India’s most dependable batsmen in Test. Abhishek Kumar writes about the Indian batsman, who is amongst the most admired Test openers in the world.

 

It’s never easy filling the shoes of larger than life sportspersons, who have not only won the nation many games but also enjoy a maddening fandom. While the critics judge you against the predecessor’s impressive stats, the fans sharpen their knives with every failure, calling for the return of the players. To face these and emerge out on your own requires a monk like temperament and Indian opener Murali Vijay has exhibited that.

 

Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag were two of India’s greatest openers in Test cricket and played a major role in India’s rise to number one in the format. However, post the 2011 World Cup, the duo who stitched many memorable partnerships suffered a slump in form. There began India’s fall and measures were taken. The two stalwarts soon found themselves out of the side in 2013 and Vijay was rewarded for his consistency in domestic cricket. Though he failed in his comeback Test in his home ground in Chennai against Australia, he followed that with a 167 in Hyderabad and 153 in Mohali. There was no looking back for the Chennai lad.

 

Two years later, in the ongoing Bangladesh Test, Shikhar Dhawan’s breezy hundred is the headline but under the shadow of his aggressive opening partner Vijay crafted another attractive hundred. That’s how Vijay’s return has been. He has curbed his natural instincts, restricted himself from getting into unnecessary heroics and played as per the demands.

 

Vijay debuted way back in 2008 and his role in his earlier days was to fill-in for either Sehwag or Gambhir. He got a longer run in 2010 and got a hundred against Australia in Bangalore, but his stint till mid-2011 was inconsistent as he saw more failures. As a Test opener, in his first 12 Tests, he averaged just over 30. Not many in Indian cricket have been lucky with comeback grants with those numbers but Vijay did and made it count.

 

Vijay’s exploits against Australia in 2013 came in home conditions but what mattered was how he fared outside the country. His 97 at Durban later that year was a true test of temperament. He averaged 37 in that tour and knives soon began to sharpened when he just managed 48-runs in four innings in New Zealand as India went down 0-1. The selectors still decided to not act in haste and Vijay opened in England too.

 

It was a series that India lost 3-1 and saw the batsmen struggle big time against quality swing bowling and surprisingly Moeen Ali’s spin. Vijay was the saving face. His 146 at Nottingham had put India in a commanding position but his enduring 95 under difficult circumstances at Lord’s stands par with Ajinkya Rahane’s hundred and Ishant Sharma’s seven wicket haul as India won the Test.

 

Vijay continued his form in Australia as well. His partnership of 155 with Virat Kohli in the Adelaide Test almost won India that game. He was dismissed for 99 but followed that with an authoritative 144 at Brisbane. Though India again lost the series 2-0, Vijay ended it with 482 runs at an average of 60.25.

 

We live in a world of hard-hitting batsmen. In days of Twenty20 (T20) cricket, Vijay is a batsman of classical mould who approaches the format in a traditional way. He is happy to be termed as a Test specialist despite of having scored some of the breeziest T20 hundreds. Not to forget that he was India’s opener in the World Twenty20 Championship in Caribbean in 2010. His ability to shift gears at will makes him even more special but he needs to be lauded for the way he has curbed his aggressive instincts for the need of the situation. That’s a maturity seen rare in today’s batsmen.

 

While there is no doubt that Vijay in current form will also add value to the One-Day International (ODI) side but since he didn’t have a great season with Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) in this year’s Indian Premier League (IPL), that doesn’t look very likely in coming days. That may not be a priority at the moment, but as of now Vijay forms the spine of India’s Test batting and his form in the coming times will play a role in determining India’s position in Test cricket.

(Abhishek Kumar is a cricket devotee currently staffing with Criclife.com. He can be followed at abhicricket.kumar)

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