Dissecting Murali Vijay, India's silent guardian at the top of the order
Murali Vijay has excelled as a Test opener. The flamboyant right-hander has scored runs in all conditions for India.
Sure, the glamour and audacity of T20 cricket are fun. Yes, ODIs have resulted in some flamboyant batting displays over the years. However, the sheer joy of watching Test cricket is to find out what players are made of.
Few players find their way to Test cricket, fewer manage to survive. And amongst the very few, only a handful have the ability to win millions of hearts with their skill and performances.
Murali Vijay is a rare breed of technique, temperament and stroke play. And over the years we have been witnesses to his batting prowess.
He doesn’t jump around celebrating his hundreds. He doesn’t make attention-grabbing comments, nor does he talk much on the field. There is a sense of calmness about him. The 32-year-old is an embodiment of discipline, confidence and fortitude. Maybe that explains why he is called a “Monk”.
It’s one thing to amass runs against touring teams that lack penetration in docile Indian pitches, but to score hundreds in unfamiliar conditions against hostile, relentless pace attacks is entirely another. Vijay, who averages 36.85 outside India has been crucial at the top of the order.
India’s 2014 tour of England saw most of the batsmen struggle to cope with the swing of James Anderson and Stuart Broad. But Vijay was exemplary with his defence and decisive footwork.
His stroke-filled 95 was phenomenal in India’s historic win at the Lord’s cricket ground.
The stylish right-hander took his form to the next level in the very next series, which happened to be against Australia. He scored 482 runs at an impressive average of 60.
His innings of 144 at the Gabba will remain one of the best innings by an Indian batsman on Australian soil. On a hot day, against a fiery pace attack, the lad from Chennai played some delightful shots. Not for once did it feel that it was his first tour down under.
Though his ODI career isn’t as impressive, he has revelled as a Test batsman. Murali Vijay has grown in stature as an opener.
Where do his strengths lie?
Knowing where his off stump is:
- A good leave is as good a shot as any in Test cricket. And Vijay was particularly exceptional with the way he left the balls outside his off stump in England. The elegant opener showed great levels of judgement and concentration to play the probing lines bowled by the English bowlers.
- His innings at the Lord’s on a green top serves as a great example of that. He forced them to bowl at him, and when they did the right-hander exercised his classy flicks to great effect. Out of his 95 runs, 54 came through the leg side.
Trusting his defence and playing the ball late:
- On wickets that assist seam and swing, a little bit of extra time could be handy. Vijay has done that very well over the years, playing the ball very late. Right under his nose.
- In his knock of 146 at Trent Bridge, he reiterated that. He allowed the ball to swing. And the extra second he had helped him cope with the extra bounce at times. He scored as many as 57 runs through the square region on the off side.
- Also read: Tracking Umesh Yadav’s evolution into a reliable fast bowler
A good player of spin:
- The dextrous right-hander is one of the better players of spin bowling in India. He has always had a solid defence. On turning tracks he uses his good reach and masterfully employs his wrists to manoeuvre the ball for runs.
- And he has shown the exploits of his strength in IPL a number of times. He can play the big hits to put the bowler under pressure, and doesn’t let them settle down.
- A patient gifted batter is a coach’s delight. On difficult pitches, he can dig deep and bat long. And when he is set, he makes most of it. In what is an impressive stat, seven out of his nine hundreds have been 130 plus scores.
- The fact that Vijay bats long not only gets him those big hundreds but also ensures that the vulnerable middle order doesn’t get exposed to the new ball too soon. He has been a guardian of the Indian batting over the past three years.
What has Vijay Lacked?
Is recent dip in form a concern?
- Following his success overseas, Indian fans expected more from him when the grand home season began. Sadly, though, the right-hander hasn’t made the best of it.
- Comparing batting averages at home since 2015
Though the opener shrugged off the comments of being out of form with two pleasing hundreds, his overall numbers are among the least for an Indian batsman this season.
2015-2016 India v. South Africa
2016-2017 India v. New Zealand
2016-2017 India v. England
2016-2017 India v. Bangladesh
2016-2017 India v. Australia
There hasn’t been a pattern in his dismissals as such. Yes, he has nicked a few raising deliveries in the fourth stump line recently. But we would expect a player of his quality to solve it out soon.
His record in 3rd and 4th innings
- Any run scored in Test cricket is precious. But the scores in 3rd and the 4th innings could decide the outcome of the match. The likes of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid excelled at that and were the architects of many Indian victories over the years.
- Comparing averages in third and fourth innings
Vijay who has registered all of his hundreds in either first innings or the second innings averages 27.28 and 27.13 in the third and fourth innings respectively. Undoubtedly he is one of the best Test batsmen around. But if he starts to get those crucial runs in the back end of the matches he could be a genuine match winner for India.
The aforementioned points might be true, but they don’t make Murali Vijay any less a player. His contributions have been significant. Averaging just under 40, he hasn’t made justice to his talent. But he would leave no stone unturned in order to better the numbers.
With KL Rahul doing exceedingly well at the top consistently, India would feel they have found a perfect opening pair for the next round of away series. Opening partnerships will be of paramount importance if India aim to win more matches overseas.
(*Note: All the statistics in this article are accurate as of 15th March,2017)