Murali Vijay - Making it count at the appropriate time
The general opinion on Murali Vijay includes the facts on the lack of foot-work, temperament and the hunger to stay in the middle. Yet, there is something amidst these imperfections that renders him apart from the rest of the crowd. The most obvious aspect that one can associate with Vijay is the charm he exudes while batting.
“Talent cannot be manifested; it is a virtue that is born within.”
Murali Vijay’s career is a tale of rags to riches. Having taken up professional cricket at a relatively later age, his career has soared up to the skies owing to the prodigious level of skill that he has exhibited. It is seldom easy to define a player like him. Vijay is a multi-faceted batsman, whose realm is beyond comprehension. His affinity towards both the shorter and longer formats has proven his versatility as a batsman.
It is ironic to be discussing about Murali Vijay amidst a Test series between India and Australia. It was the fourth Test of the Border-Gavaskar trophy in 2008. The incumbent opener Gautam Gambhir was handed a one-match ban owing to the tussle between him and Shane Watson in the previous Test match. India was suddenly lacking prospective candidates, as Gambhir was blowing hot with a rollicking double century, only in the previous Test.
Enter Vijay. He was plying his trade in a Ranji Trophy encounter between Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. A relatively unknown entity, Vijay strung a mammoth partnership (462 runs for the first wicket) with fellow opener Abhinav Mukund, making a classy double century in the process. It could only be classified as divine intervention for Vijay, as he was by no means on the threshold of making the cut. In every success there remains a casualty, and in this case it was the exclusion of the talented Wasim Jaffer, as Vijay was selected ahead of him.
The sudden ban for Gambhir provided Vijay with an opportunity to don the prestigious whites for team India. The general sight in witnessing a debutant would include nervous jabs, unsure defence and tentative footwork, which indicates the presence of butterflies in the stomach. But it was completely amazing to see Vijay taking control of the situation, as he lent solidity at the top of the order. He was instrumental in setting up the match for his team even as he scored 33 and 41 runs in his two essays.
“His defensive shots are so assured. And he looks comfortable off both front and back foot. And when he attacks, he doesn’t go hard at the deliveries. I can see why this young man is playing” – Allan Border
It wasn’t a century that he scored, yet the manner in which he applied himself articulated the depth in his character and the will to succeed. Added to that, he was a dab hand as a close-in fielder, effecting two crucial run-outs to turn the tide in favour of his team. These attributes augured well for him as he repaid the selectors’ faith in him. Thereafter, he was persisted as the reserve opener.
His sojourn in the Indian Premier League is the next chapter of this noteworthy saga. The idiosyncratic nature of the IPL grants the domestic giants of Indian cricket the chance to showcase their skills on a bigger platform. The Chennai top order which had Parthiv Patel and Matthew Hayden in recurring roles saw fit to provide Vijay with a chance. “The youngster had promise,” felt Indian skipper MS Dhoni, as he persisted with Murali Vijay in the third edition to general bewilderment, since Patel was an established opening batsman and had represented the national side on quite a few occasions.
Vijay was outstanding that season as he scored his maiden ton. He backed it up with some credible performances to emerge as the second highest run-getter for Chennai, just behind Raina. His exploits meant that he was in line to make his debut in T20s, that too at the World Cup. He couldn’t have been more blessed, as his performances kept coming at the appropriate times.
“The journey to the top is not a bed of roses!” – Vijay had to swallow the bitter pill of lack of form, as he struggled to compete at the highest level. His honeymoon had concluded with the completion of the World Cup. His lackadaisical attitude and lack of proper footwork meant that he was sidelined for the rest of the season. But his form in the longer formats held in him good stead for a comeback to the national side. He played the Test series against Australia at the fag end of the year for a second time.
There is something queer about Vijay and his style of batting. Though he displays flashes of mediocrity initially, he confines himself to play within his limits once he gets set. It helped him when he scored his maiden ton against a pace-filled Australia.
The most vital attribute of his batting repertoire is the elegance he exhibits. Right-handers seldom display elegance in such eminence that it makes their batting seem quite adorable. Though people have loved to watch the straight drive from the Master’s blade, it is Mahela Jayawardene who walks away with the honours when it comes to elegance and grace. Vijay is a one-of-a-kind cricketer who displays fluidity and immense grace in every shot, and in every little movement of his while batting.
Post that knock, Vijay had to make way for the seniors as he had a poor run of form. To be honest, his form was like a pendulum which swung from one extreme to the other. He did not have any other major performances to boast of, barring a couple of good knocks in the IPL. It was not much, to say the least, until the Irani trophy in 2012.
Vijay, who was given a reprieve and a chance to prove his mettle, blasted his way to a mammoth double century (266 runs). It was the highest score in an Irani trophy game and brought him back into the reckoning. A string of low scores followed once more, as had become a habit. He had yet another opportunity to claim a berth in the Indian Test side. He made the cut for the Irani trophy against Mumbai this year as well. Vijay’s selection befuddled the fans, as he had a poor domestic season. But he put that all behind him, as he scored an unrestrained ton in the first innings. It did not seem enough to stake a claim in the Test team, as Wasim Jaffer had a far better record as an opener coming into the match. But destiny proved otherwise, as Vijay was included once again ahead of Jaffer. It portrays the immense faith that the selectors have shown towards his potential.
The first Test was a blasphemy. While his state mate was wreaking havoc with the ball, Vijay had mediocre outings, with scores of 10 and 6, which caused dejection in the fans.
Honestly, critics opined that Vijay should be dropped from the playing eleven, and either Dhawan or Rahane should be included. But the faith that the skipper had in him, and the fact that MS Dhoni understands the batting nuances of Vijay, went in his favour.
The second Test was all set for a Virender Sehwag showdown, as the Aussies were bowled out or rather, declared themselves on the score of 237/9. The opening duo of Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay walked out to bat with the burden of proving a point or two to the critics. But Sehwag was a huge disappointment once again, as he departed for six runs. The onus fell on Vijay and Pujara, the latter walking out to bat at number three.
The creation of history in cricket does not possess any indications beforehand. It happens when it does!
Vijay played cautiously to avoid any further breakthroughs. Along with Pujara, he constructed the “innings-of-a-lifetime”. The defenses were rock solid, and the drives were all the more elegant. He was gaining in confidence with each passing delivery, and the experience of facing the Australian bowling came to the fore, as he played second fiddle to Pujara.
It was an innings of great mental ability and strength, as he was circumspect in his approach. It was shocking to see Vijay in such a changed ‘avatar’, as he put the flair and flamboyance behind and looked to consolidate his position. It was a welcome change and would have made the fans of Chennai Super Kings wonder: “What happened to our ballistic Vijay?”
It was an innings to cherish, as he defied all the odds to emerge as the winner. He has kept himself in the hunt at the end of the second day, and he would be looking to add a few more runs to his tally tomorrow morning. With this knock he has proved to his adversaries and fans that:
“There is no short cut to success; rather, success is all about the art of grabbing the right opportunities at the right moments!”