Murali Vijay is an asset to Indian cricket. Not just because he is only the third opener after Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag to score 10 Test centuries for India, but also due to his very persona.
The Tamil Nadu cricketer has a history in taking life’s hard knocks on the chin and standing up to be counted. This, in turn, has conditioned him for bruising encounters. He is just the sort of player any team would want to have in a scrap, especially as a realist he thrives in the present and fights battles one at a time.
This is the primary reason why many would have rejoiced over his century at Nagpur. The knock marked his return to form and virtually guaranteed him a berth in the team to South Africa.
Vijay is a tough-as-nails cricketer who combines exemplary temperament with an outstanding ability to take on the best of skilled fast bowlers. His wonderful success in opening the batting in Australia, England and South Africa, three specific countries where many Indian batsmen have met their doom, is a testimony to this.
Two of Vijay’s hard-fought ten centuries have been carved up outside the sub-continent, in Australia and England respectively. There were also near misses like his 97 against South Africa on the fearsome Kingsmead pitch in Durban in 2013, the heart-breaking 99 against Australia at Adelaide in 2014 and a brilliant 95 against England at the historic Lord’s cricket ground.
The two centuries — 146 in 361 deliveries against England in Trent Bridge and 144 in 213 deliveries against Australia on the pacy Gabba in Brisbane in 2014 — came during particularly productive series. Vijay’s major scores in that series in England were 52, 95, 35, 24 while in the Tests in Australia he made scores of 52, 99, 27, 68 and 80 besides, of course, that brilliant 144 at Brisbane.
The hallmark of Vijay’s batting has always been his calm demeanour. This in turn enables him to stay unfazed even as a pace bowler works up steam. He bides him time, preferring to ignore the wide deliveries while stoutly defending the good ones. Of course, being a very good judge of length and line helps. In short, Vijay not only holds his end up but wears down fast bowlers.
His 361-delivery knock of 146 against England in Nottingham was a classic example of the monumental patience of the batsman. It is knocks like those that send the right signal to the dressing room: here’s a man who will stay put and fight it out till he has his way.
Vijay was just 17 years of age when he walked out of his house and opted to plough his own furrow. In other cultures it is quite normal for a 17-year-old to live on his or her own and make their own living. But not in India, particularly in conservative Tamil Nadu.
In an interview with The Indian Express a few years ago, he spoke of how he had slept on the floor in a small hotel room that he shared with a driver and another person after he left his house following him failing the 12 standard exams.
By then he had studied in seven or eight schools, been expelled for bad behaviour and nearly made a mess of his youth. At home his father’s business had gone kaput.
He joined a chain-business marketing firm, worked in a snooker parlour and also indulged in a lot of “losers pay” games in snooker. He said he made money in these games and that helped him stay afloat. It probably also gave him those nerves of steel, especially as it is so easy to choke when all your money depends on you sinking the final ball.
Vijay said that irrespective of what he was up to, he still found time for gym work and cricket. When his money ran out, he revealed, he slept on park benches and cricket grounds. Later when he joined college he would sleep in friends’ houses. College and club cricket set him on his way.
Another key facet of Vijay came through when he revealed why he was not selected for the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team despite good performances. He was told that his attitude and long hair were the issue!
That same evening Vijay got rid of his long hair. In The Indian Express interview, he said: “It was difficult for me to change people, so I decided to change myself. I told myself I can grow back the hair anytime. Cricket was my ultimate thing...”
This amazing approach even at a young age has helped Vijay get back on his feet time and again, especially after injuries. The last injury, a surgery in England on his wrist, kept him out of the game for a few months. In that time his replacement Shikhar Dhawan made tons of runs against Sri Lanka before Vijay bounced back with the ton at Nagpur.
That ton and the manner in which he made it would have cheered the team management tremendously as Vijay is the number one opener and someone the team would badly need on overseas tours.
Certainly if Indian batting has to come through testing times in South Africa, Vijay, the opening batsman, has to be at the top of his game. Nagpur is the first step of that long journey. More power to his arm!