Under the SKanner: Murali Vijay - The man who has never got his due
Deciphering the strengths and weaknesses of the most underrated batsman in India's Test lineup.
In a country wherein batsmen are often worshipped and elevated to exalted pedestals, Murali Vijay is an oddity. Even as the likes of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara walk away with all the accolades, the elegant right-hander almost slips by unnoticed. While his style of batting may appear soothing to the eyes, he prefers the hard grind.
Taking a cue from the prevailing trend, Vijay boasts of prominent tattoos. Yet, underneath the rough exterior, lies a serene mind which reflects the typical laid back attitude of those hailing from the southern part of the country. The nickname 'Monk' (admittedly derived from a different reason) offers an apt representation of his approach at the crease.
If there ever was a case of numbers not presenting the complete picture, Vijay's career stands as a testimony. From 51 Tests thus far, the 33-year old has scored 3408 runs at a seemingly under whelming average of 39.62 inclusive of nine centuries and fifteen half-centuries. However, his contribution to India's recent dominance in the premier format cannot be stated enough.
With his unflappable demeanour and robust technique, Vijay has carved a niche for himself at the top of the order. As he returns to the Test squad to face Sri Lanka after an injury-induced lay-off, let us delve deep into his strengths and weaknesses in order to understand the Tamil Nadu opener's value to the Indian side.
Impeccable awareness around his off-stump
During India's calamitous tour of England in 2014, Vijay was among the very few players to emerge unscathed from the ensuing debris. With 402 runs from five matches at an average of 40.20 including a century and two half-centuries, he topped India's run-charts in what was a chastening sojourn. A major reason for his relatively fruitful outing stems from his sound awareness around the corridor of uncertainty.
One of not too many Indian batsmen who have a solid idea of where their off-stump lies, Vijay's fundamental aspects are in fine fettle. A stable stance at the crease and a balanced head position help him leave deliveries on length instead of having to cover the line. His extensive reservoir of patience also enables him to weather the new-ball storm under challenging conditions.
It is often said that a well-judged leave becomes the most productive shot during the first session of a Test match. Over the last few years, Vijay has shown an intrinsic propensity to absorb everything that a swing bowler throws at him with the shining red cherry.
Strong off the front foot
The quality of any Test-class batsman can be discerned from his timing or lack thereof. In such regard, Vijay certainly holds a place in the upper echelons of the present generation of batting stalwarts. The right-hander's delectable timing is a direct byproduct of his efficient transfer of weight from one foot to another.
Even though he can also captivate the audience with delectable cuts, Vijay's prowess on the front foot is instrumental in his reputation among the connoisseurs of the game. The opener's side-on stance plays a key role in helping him pick up length quickly and getting his front foot in prime position just as the bowler finishes his delivery stride. Consequently, the crisp drives flow through unabated.
Possesses plenty of options against spin
A lot has been said on the supposed spin-oriented frailties of the current generation of Indian batsmen. While they may not able to dominate the tweakers like their illustrious predecessors, their techniques against the turning ball definitely passes muster. After all, the regularity with which the batting lineup amasses massive scores underlines the team's dominance in the subcontinent.
Aside from Pujara, no other present-day Indian batsman comes close to Vijay in dealing with world-class spinners. The opener's enormous range of shots assists him in countering different types of spinners. He can go down on one knee and unfurl the sweep shot with the same eloquence emanating from his trademark lofted stroke. Dancing down the track and lifting the ball with the turn continues to remain one of his strong points.
Averse to utilising the pull shot
The Achilles' Heel of most subcontinental batsmen is the short ball. Upon honing their trade to suit the low bounce pitches prevalent in Asia, the struggle against the relentless barrage of bouncers is cricket's equivalent of the initial culture shock experienced by immigrants to the western world. Vijay's situation is no different. He can come unstuck on rapid surfaces designed for subjecting batsmen to a ruthless examination of fortitude.
On face value, Vijay's statistics on Australian soil are extremely impressive. From four matches in the 2014/15 Border-Gavaskar Trophy, he accumulated 482 runs at a remarkable average of 60.25 including a sublime century at the Gabba. However, the pitches served up for the series were docile and incomparable to the vicious surfaces of yore facilitated for hostile stuff.
Although he has the wherewithal to summon the pull shot, Vijay seldom plays fire with fire. Trusting his judgement, the right-hander prefers to let go rather than taking on the short ball. As a result, he can get himself into ungainly positions from time to time. With the young Kagiso Rabada lurking in the horizon, he may find it necessary to unfurl the pull shot on typically hard surfaces seen in South Africa.
Prone to soft dismissals
A typical Vijay innings radiates the splendour of Test cricket. Borrowing a page from the Sunil Gavaskar chapter of orthodoxy, he gives the first session to the bowler and gets ready to dig deep. Once he is able to come to terms with the pace of the surface, the reliable opener shows his complete repertoire of shots. Just when it seems like he is preparing himself for a monumental knock, a lapse in concentration intervenes. It is unfathomable that a batsman of his class holds a career best score of only 167.
Also Read: Murali Vijay - A man for all seasons
For such a technically adroit and temperamentally sound batsman, Vijay is vulnerable to soft dismissals. Be it the temptation of spin or the allure of pace, the fatal mistake rears it head on frequent occasions and prevents him from turning a significant score into a colossal figure. Instilling a touch of grit to his batting will lift an average hovering close to the 40-run mark into the high 40s.
If he manages to rectify the issue pertaining to assiduity in the coming Tests, Murali will soon join the distinguished 'Vijay' club containing the likes of Hazare, Merchant and Manjrekar.