CHENNAI: When Rajkot hosted its maiden Test, against England in 2016, Murali Vijay was India’s first-choice opener. As the rest of his teammates head to Rajkot two years later to open the home season against the West Indies, it remains to be seen if India will miss Vijay.
An opener who stayed true to his character, the 34-year-old was at the peak of his powers two years ago. He put a premium on his wicket, spent hour after hour in the middle shouldering deliveries that had alarm written all over them.
Cut to 2018 and India, despite bringing in two new openers, don’t have someone of Vijay’s ilk. Of course, it is hard to understand how an opener, who was among the more reliable ones in the world, in the space of two tours has gone from most-sought-after to out-of-favour. In the period since his comeback to the team in 2013, no Indian opener has fared better than him in terms of runs scored (3295) or deliveries faced (7115). The yawning gap between Shikhar Dhawan (3458 deliveries faced) and him paints a telling picture in this regard.
Only David Warner has more hundreds than Vijay’s 11 in this period. Which is why it is curious to note Vijay became the fall guy among the three (KL Rahul being the third) who have played mostly during this period. That Dhawan, who often replaced him in the eleven, got the boot two Tests later, makes it even more intriguing.
True, the numbers in the six Tests Vijay played this year don’t make for a strong case. He tallied only 233 runs, with nearly half of it coming against Afghanistan. With Vijay struggling for runs, the selectors opted to look elsewhere. But, it wasn’t the only time they have looked past Vijay. In the time he was part of the side, there were matches were he was overlooked to accommodate more quick-scoring openers.
Just months before India’s departure for South Africa, Vijay, who was expected to play a key role, didn’t even get to start against Sri Lanka in Kolkata. He responded with hundreds in Nagpur and Delhi. Having returned from a successful stint with Essex (three fifties and a ton in five innings), he revealed that the constant chopping and changing might have played a part in him being inconsistent.
“Anyone who doesn’t get to play regularly will have some doubts. When you shuffle a lot there will definitely be certain thoughts in the back of your mind over your spot... but the team-management had a different way of looking at things. And when you are part of the team, you have to contribute to the overall cause because that is what matters in the end. You are always judged on the performance. Unfortunately, I didn’t have them,” Vijay told Express.
It is also worth noting that in the overseas Tests Vijay played this year, conditions were loaded in favour of bowlers. In England, the ball swung and seamed more than twice the global average. That England persisted with Keaton Jennings and Alastair Cook despite low scores leaves you wondering if India could have given Vijay a longer rope, considering he found form with Essex.
“Conditions were tough for batsmen. It was no doubt one of the most challenging conditions. Even the English batsmen struggled to make runs... and it is the same with our middle-order as well. None of us could support Virat (Kohli), which is why the defeat hurt a lot. After the Tests, I wanted to see where I stood and Essex was good learning curve for me to score those important runs again,” said Vijay.
However, Vijay, who will turn out for Tamil Nadu in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, is rather upbeat.
“At the end of the day it is the performance that counts. The past doesn’t matter and it is for others to judge if I deserved to be in the side or not. I’m playing this sport because it gives me joy and that is what I look forward to the most. Ups and downs are part of a cricketer’s career. I have gone through this before.”