What is the first thing that comes into mind about Murali Vijay? Those eye-pleasing cover drives or those massive sixes straight down the ground to spinners? When I recall the contributions made by him to Test cricket, I do question myself, have we appreciated him enough?
One away victory India would be proud of in the past few years would be the Lord’s of 2014 English summer. Right, what do we remember about the heroes of that match? Ishant Sharma with his seven-for to turn up everything around on the final day? Rahane’s ton on a green top on day one? Ravindra Jadeja’s aggressive half-century in the second innings?
But I’m very sure Murali Vijay’s 95 in the second innings would be ranked after these three in the discussions made by us. More than the seven hundreds he has notched up, I would remember him for the crucial half centuries or missed hundreds.
While watching him bat against England in Rajkot piling up another characteristic ton, statistics showed the averages of all Indian batsmen since 2015. While Rahanes, Kohlis and Pujaras had staggering averages, Vijay was just on par at 41 which is round about same as his career average. That’s been his feature all through his career. He has never dominated as a single player throughout one complete tour or series, but he has made those small yet vital contributions which strike out as the difference later on.
At this point of time, we won’t probably realise his worth as a batsman because others like Kohli, Rahane and even Ashwin are scoring runs with ease. But what we have seen with Vijay is that he would produce that average everywhere, from The Gabba to Trent Bridge.
Kohli doesn’t find his zone against seaming ball in England. Pujara doesn’t find himself very comfortable against the Aussie bounce. But with Vijay as an opener, we ensure that lots and lots of ball are played by the opener, everywhere in the world.
Barring New Zealand, Vijay has found good runs in every away tour that mattered, South Africa, England and Australia, but never enough to make a series win happen.
Vijay would have to time and time again answer the question about the pace at which he scores his runs. Virat Kohli sometimes gets itchy when runs come slow, even in a Test match. He is the captain who would not want to get bogged down.
One such example was seen recently in the West Indies when he dropped both Pujara and Vijay and played Rohit Sharma. Pujara also had a discussion regarding the same and the change in his approach is clearly visible. Vijay’s strike rate in Tests is in the 40s, and that’s how it remains in all his innings. For me, this is completely okay because his partners compensate for the scoring rate if that's an issue at all.
This is the style he has adopted and is working for him. Any attempt to make him change his game would not be a sagacious thing to do. Also, he has the attacking weapon of taking on the spinners, and he is excellent at it. But with Lokesh Rahul’s attacking gameplay coming into the picture, Vijay should never take his position for granted.
I remember Murali Vijay for the solid second innings 95 at Lord’s in 2014 where, like a machine, he left and left deliveries outside the off stump and unfortunately nicked one to miss out a well-deserved name on the prestigious board. I remember Vijay for the brave 99 at the Adelaide Oval to support Kohli in reply for an almost impossible target on the final day. Vijay has often found himself on the losing side in spite of brilliant individual performances, which statistically doesn’t help him much. The Adelaide example is one of them besides a fantastic Gabba century and an excellent 97 at Kingsmead on Boxing Day of 2013.
Murali Vijay doesn’t have the flashy sword which can pile up a quick load of runs in the subcontinent. He is the exact opposite of a typical flat track bully. Like a certain Sehwag, the opener won’t murder the bowlers with brutality, but he can, in his ways tire them to death.
He won't be having excellent ICC Ratings or plenty of man of the matches, but I am perfectly alright with the limited glory he has. You would sometimes blame him for making the game slow, but his calmness is an essential part of the diverse Indian batting lineup which, if supported well by fast bowlers can fulfil the dream of winning Tests away from the subcontinent consistently.