When Murali Vijay perished to an expansive drive in the second innings in Chennai, nothing suggested the pending turnaround.
His first-innings dismissal was even more rudderless, beaten for pace by a James Pattinson blinder. He still seemed to be struggling with mental demons and technical fallibilities.
The U-turn in Hyderabad, then, was hardly foreseeable. But Vijay, from thenceforth, exhibited a trained restrain that was previously hidden.
He trenched in, shouldered balls that he would have otherwise poked at, dead-batted those he otherwise would have wristed through leg-side, and waited for them to come onto him than fetching for them.
The end result manifested as successive hundreds — 167 and 152 off 361 and 317 balls, both of series-defining proportion. But he reckons the hundreds wouldn’t have happened but for the twin failures (10 and 6) in Chennai. That to him was the trigger. “I was very disappointed to fail in front of my home crowd. It hurt me a lot and I decided to make amends,” he said.
Making amends wasn’t as easy as he made it look. He knew it was more of a battle within a battle; it was raging defiance of his instincts. “I got out playing shots and playing shots is my nature. But I wanted to go the hard way. If I do that I knew I would eventually get runs,” said Vijay, who believes India are in the driver’s seat to win the Test.
And he walked the talk, employing a never-seen-before stickability. The 167 in Hyderabad was his longest innings (361 balls and 473 minutes). In Mohali’s first innings, he consumed 317 balls. Thus Vijay has faced more balls than anybody in this series (705, and second most is Cheteshwar Pujara who has played 452 balls).
Though both his hundreds were supporting acts to bigger feats (Pujara in Hyderabad and Shikhar Dhawan in Mohali), he has gradually climbed atop the runs-chart (336).
Even the sight of fellow-strikers teeing off couldn’t shake his resolve, especially in Mohali when Dhawan went berserk. “When somebody is batting like that you just need to hang in and stick to your game. When Shikhar was batting, I didn’t want to disrupt his natural game and told him to play his shots. I focused on percentage shots and didn’t miss out on such opportunities,” he said.
Even after reaching his hundreds, he is driven by the lure of bigger numbers. The distraught look after getting out in Hyderabad and Mohali fully conveyed his ambition. “The plan was to bat as long as possible. And I was set for a bigger score, but there was a momentary lapse in concentration. The second new-ball and all other things slightly distracted me,” he said. Given the maturity of his batting, bigger numbers should keep coming.