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Reinventing Murali Vijay


Murali_Vijay_India_cricketHe looked flawless. He looked unflappable. That it was on a wearing 5th day Adelaide wicket chasing down an improbable target just added to his resolve. And, when Vijay finally fell on 99, playing back to Nathan Lyon, most Indian fans would have feared the worst. And they were proved right when India went on to lose the Adelaide test match.

For fans, Murali Vijay has not always been that reassuring presence in the middle that he is now. No one expected him to score two half centuries and a century of the highest quality in a row in Australia let alone being India’s best top order batsman in England. An opinion based solely on the way he blew hot and cold in the IPL and his failure to cash in on the limited ODI chances. The odd match-winning knock in the big game preceded by low scores, loose shots that made him look careless and irresponsible, the nonchalance with which he took catches that made him look cocky and that he played for CSK, one of the most hated teams, did not help things along either. The arm-chair selectors concluded that he was picked for the Indian team just because of his association with CSK and Kris Srikkanth, the selector at the time. His IPL exploits, good and bad, clouded opinions on his suitability for the longer format.

Surprisingly, T20 was not Vijay’s shot to fame. He had made his test debut when the IPL was still in its early stages and had given a good account of himself against the Australians despite being drafted into the side as an emergency replacement for Gambhir. He had gained the selector’s attention after impressive knocks in Ranji Trophy for Tamilnadu and his call-up came on the back of a massive opening partnership with Abhinav Mukund. The success of Sehwag-Gambhir as the opening pair meant Vijay’s test appearances were limited. And in his fight to stay relevant, in spite of racking up huge scores in Ranji Trophy, like Pujara, he chose the other attractive option in line with the trend. He modified his game to suit the needs of IPL. While he looked a million dollars when it came off, you could still tell that it wasn’t something that came naturally to him.

And when Vijay did make his comeback into the test team, he scored two big hundreds against Australia playing good old-fashioned test cricket, it still was not enough to convince the sceptics. He did not have a chance outside India against the likes of Steyn & Morkel, Anderson & Broad, Johnson & Harris. His technique was no way near good to deal with anything that bounced above his knee. All this based on IPL. We are so quick to question the credentials of players who get selected for test teams based on good IPL performances. But how many of the new generation of cricket watchers believe that in spite of bad T20 performances, players can still do a job on cricket’s toughest format?

Vijay is a man of the extremes. He can either look compact and assured and play a typical test innings or be outrageously flamboyant. There is just no middle ground. That explains his failure on the ODI stage. Credit to the selectors and captain for recognising that and insisting that his future with India is in the longer format. And Vijay has taken that on board as his performances have shown.

Vijay averages 45 since his return to test cricket in the Australia series, the second highest among Indian batsmen during this period. He also averages an impressive 40 overseas with top knocks at Durban, Lord’s and Adelaide. Only Virat Kohli has been better on both fronts. He has taken responsibility and provided solidity at the top during a time of transition, but it’s a shame that the middle order has not cashed in as much as they should have.

Blessed with an outstanding ability to leave the good balls alone, Vijay is immaculate with his judgement outside the off stump and in swaying away from the ball that bounces into his body. The horizontal bat shots are almost non-existent and it’s in the ‘V’ that he scores his runs. The wonderfully caressed cover drives and the regal flicks either side of mid-wicket come out when the bowler ends up erring trying something different. But, that’s just reward for any batsman who backs his technique to stay out of trouble with the good balls. And the essence of good test match batting.

At 30 years of age, Vijay has finally managed to get a foothold in the Indian team and it is of utmost importance that he makes it count this time. For someone who had not played with a cricket ball until he was 17, reinventing himself constantly has been vital. For the larger good of Indian cricket, Vijay must not be picked in the limited over formats regardless of how well he does. He should be allowed to improve his game in domestic/county cricket to keep himself in the groove rather than make up the numbers in ODI squad as back-up. Experimentation with multiple formats has proved detrimental in the past and selectors must resist the temptation no matter how good his exploits in the test format are. Delhi Daredevils have released him recently after one poor season and this is a good omen.

Vijay is in the zone. Do not disturb.

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