Opening in Tests ‘unfair’ on Hanuma Vihari, ‘unfortunate’ for Murali Vijay: VVS Laxman
Hanuma Vihari made 8 off 66 balls as opener at the MCG. © Getty

Former India batsman VVS Laxman believes that Murali Vijay should have been persisted with as opener for the ongoing Perth Test against Australia, and that pushing Hanuma Vihari into an unfamiliar role was an “unfair” move by the team management.

Vihari, in his third Test match, was promoted to open as India – who axed Vijay and KL Rahul  after four poor innings – batted first on day one of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG alongside the debutant Mayank Agarwal. He faced 66 deliveries, scored 8 and helped Agarwal play out an hour and 20 minutes before he was removed by a Pat Cummins bouncer. (LIVE SCORECARD: INDIA vs AUSTRALIA, MCG TEST)

“I’m very surprised with the opening combination,” said Laxman on a show for ESPNcricinfo on day one of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG. “Especially on this tour, where Australia have got three quality fast bowlers, the importance of playing out overs and seeing off the new ball so that the middle-order batsmen can come and play their style of cricket … so I am surprised.” (ALSO READ: Hanuma Vihari, a middle-order stylist thrust into opener’s role)

Laxman felt that Vijay, despite managing 48 runs in two Tests in Australia, should have been given a longer rope.

“While Mayank Agarwal would have been an automatic choice, particularly when keeping in mind that Prithvi Shaw is out of the series and KL Rahul is struggling with his confidence level, I felt that Murali Vijay showed a glimpse of what Murali Vijay can do. You could see it in the second innings at Perth, even though he got out playing a bad shot, the way he was leaving the ball and getting into position when playing his trademark cover-drives, you just felt that he was getting back confidence and rhythm.

“That’s where as a team management you invest and support a player [so that] … the next Test he plays he can turn it around. It’s really unfair and unfortunate for Vihari to open in an international match. He was never done that in first-class cricket or any form of cricket.”

Vihari has, in fact, opened on three occasions in first-class cricket with 265 runs at 132.50, inclusive of a hundred. But 64 of his innings have come at No 3, from where he averages 56.74. Laxman’s point was that there is a “stark difference” between opening at domestic level and in Test cricket.

“There’s no doubt about that. My point is ‘why should he open?’. There are other players like Murali Vijay who has the experience, this is the third Test match of the series so in effect the message you are communicating to KL Rahul and Murali Vijay is that they are out of the series. They’re not going to play the SCG Test match. It’s really unfortunate.

“When you’re opening in first-class cricket or limited-overs cricket, the mindset is totally different. In Test cricket, against a formidable fast-bowling lineup, it is a challenge. Credit to Vihari, we’ve seen at The Oval and at Perth on tough wickets and in challenging circumstances that he’s shown the grit and temperament and fight. Having said that, it’s unfair on a youngster who is playing his third Test match to push him into a position he’s not familiar with.”