CUTTACK: Thursday was far from the run-of-the-mill days that the cricket stadium inside DRIEMS campus usually experiences. Proof of that came 12 balls into the tea session of the Group C clash between Tamil Nadu and Odisha.
A small group of students, gathered behind a sight-screen, throatily hooted in approval as a right-hander held up a clenched fist after notching up his 10th Ranji Trophy century with a deftly-placed cut. The ground had just witnessed Murali Vijay, a man who has proven quite a few points in the past, prove yet another one.
This one, though, carried a lot more impact compared to its predecessors. For three reasons, to be precise. The first is that the 33-year-old’s recent domestic sojourn has been punctuated with injuries. Tamil Nadu’s clashes against Andhra Pradesh (he suffered an ankle sprain after notching up a 50) and Tripura (he missed out due to a stiff neck) are cases in point.
The second is an extrapolation of the first: barring a cameo-ish appearance in the Tamil Nadu Premier League and one Duleep Trophy clash, the opener has not seen quality cricket since the end of March, after India’s fourth Test against Australia in Dharamsala.
The third – and perhaps the most striking – reason is that he joined Tamil Nadu’s squad in the eleventh hour. He flew in for the crunch match – they are placed fourth in the group – late on Wednesday night after being asked by the BCCI to do so.
Concatenated with the fact that this directive came only a week before the commencement of the India-Sri Lanka Tests – the roster for which includes his name – Vijay had indeed made a point.
“It was an opportunity to represent my state again. The management thought I should play this match, and I was okay with that. It was a last-minute call and I enjoyed it,” remarked Vijay at the end of day’s play.
“I have not played first-class cricket regularly. I have come in for one or two matches, and then have been with the Indian team. I really thank TNCA for being kind enough to pick me whenever I was available and keep me in the mindset I’m in.”
Vijay’s riposte with the willow did bear the occasional blemish, though. The Chennai native began his innings with a good measure of diligence, getting off the mark only in the sixth over of Tamil Nadu’s innings.
But, after consuming quite a bit of sighters – he took 143 balls to reach his 50 – he grew in confidence against a disciplined Odisha attack on a two-paced track, hitting top gear in the final session.
From 79 off 199, Vijay motored on to 140 off 273 before being scalped by pacer Suryakant Pradhan. In the process, Tamil Nadu’s score swelled to a solid 292/3 at the end of the day.
“The wicket was a little tricky in the morning. I just had to assess it and play my natural game. The whole idea was to get a lot of time with the bat,” explained Vijay. “This match is very crucial for us, and hopefully we can pull off a win. If we do, that is exactly what I want to take ahead of the Sri Lanka series – some positive momentum.”
Group A: At Bengaluru: Karnataka 348/4 (Ravikumar Samarth 58, Mayank Agarwal 169 n.o, Manish Pandey 74) vs Delhi.
Group C: At Agartala: Andhra 252/2 (Prasanth Kumar 120 n.o, Hanuma Vihari 62) vs Tripura.
At Cuttack: Tamil Nadu 292/3 (Murali Vijay 140, Narayan Jagadeesan 88) vs Odisha.