Vijay settles into opener's role

Vijay settles into opener's role

The right-hander has put behind an unsteady past to emerge a solid batsman

Vijay settles into opener's role

The finest tribute to Murali Vijay came from a rather surprising quarter. It was the 20th over of India’s first innings in the opening Test at the Adelaide Oval and Murali Vijay came down the track to deposit Nathan Lyon straight over the sight screen for six. Next ball he attempted a similar shot and picked up a four.

Channel Nine commentator James Brayshaw could hardly believe Vijay’s assault on the Australian off-spinner. He said Lyon was being taken apart from someone who is not known to play big strokes. Really? That would have been your obvious reaction if you have had even a passing interest in Indian cricket. But, in a way, it also mirrored how much the perception about Vijay the batsman has changed. From someone who loved to send the ball all over the park in T20s to becoming a classical opening batsman, Vijay’s life has come full circle.

Even as Vijay’s stock as a Test opener has soared, his T20 fortunes have nosedived. He was not retained by the Chennai Super Kings, for whom he played for all but last season of IPL, and now Delhi Daredevils, who bought him in the last auction, have released him after one poor year. This is, however, one dip in fortune that neither Vijay would be bothered about nor do people who care about India’s Test health.  

From a stand-by opener, who was always summoned at a short notice when one of the regular openers would be unavailable, to making the slot his own, the right-hander has provided solution to one half of India’s opening problem. The fact that his runs have come in the testing conditions of South Africa, England and Australia has also proved that he isn’t a flat-track bully.

If there was a poll to decide India’s most valuable player after Virat Kohli in the just-concluded Test series against Australia there would be little competition for Vijay, the third top run-maker behind Steven Smith and his skipper. His 482 runs were as crucial to India being competitive in the series as Kohli’s 692. In all he faced 905 deliveries which is way more than what Australian openers Chris Rogers (689) David Warner (536) lasted. In playing out nearly 151 overs through eight innings, he ensured that India didn’t always have to worry about their middle order getting exposed early.

One of the main reasons for middle-order’s good show can be attributed to Vijay blunting the new ball.    
Barring some rare circumstances, it’s usually the performer of the day that is sent to front up the media. Thus, the easiest yardstick though not always accurate, to judge the performance of a player is to just look at the number of press conferences he has attended during the course of the series. Vijay attended just one such meet as did Karn Sharma who did precious little on his debut Test in Adelaide. That’s how inconspicuous his batting has been despite its obvious significance. He is like a worker ant which goes on about its job of defending the anthill and collecting food without getting due recognition.

Vijay is many things to many people. Some call him ‘the monk’ and not necessarily because of the sage-like approach he has to his batting while others assume him to be a bit cocky. He is conscious of his image but feels he has neither the time nor the means to correct the perception about him. “But then, at the end of the day it’s just a perception and not necessarily the truth,” he told in a recent interview to a BCCI website.

What’s true, however, is his penchant to make runs against Australia. Vijay made his debut against them, his maiden ton was against them and four of his five Test centuries have come against them.   

“May be I am playing them more often than not,” he said in an effort to sound funny when asked what makes him excel against the Aussies. “I always like to play against Australia,” he said on a more serious note. “When I was a kid, I used to see lot of knocks played by my seniors Sachin paajii… (Rahul) Dravid got a double hundred in Adelaide (2003) and won the match for us. Those were the inspiring moments. VVS Laxman, every time he came up against Australia he produced special things… Those are the knocks I have seen as a youngster. Australia are is one of the best teams and getting runs against the best is always a great feeling. It helps your confidence both as player and as a person,” he remarked.