Could Murali Vijay’s inclusion in the squad that’s to play in the upcoming series prove to be that much-needed lucky break?
It was a warm afternoon at the picturesque Roseau. Dominica, another jewel in the Caribbean crown, is essentially a lazy tourist destination — comprising mountains, rainforests, streams and hot water lakes.
The island’s capital city though was getting ready for more serious business. Dominica was on the verge of hosting its first ever Test. And the sun shone bright at Windsor Park, the venue for the momentous occasion. The weather tangoed with Roseau that was already in a celebratory mood.
Starry-eyed onlookers watched from beyond the fence as the Indian team practised ahead of the third Test, beginning on July 6, 2011. Despite smiles all around, Murali Vijay, lying on the turf and looking skywards, sported a grim visage. He could barely mask a sense of disappointment. The selectors had announced the squad for the Test series in England that immediately followed the Indian campaign in the West Indies and Vijay had found his name missing from the list. Truth to tell, he had hardly done justice to his ability on the tour.
In the absence of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir for the series, he was India’s No. 1 opener going into the three-Test face-off. Yet his returns in the first two Tests had been 8, 0, 11 and 3. Then, arrived the historic Test at Roseau.
He appeared to be having problems with his stance and consequently did not seem to possess the proper body balance as he shaped to play deliveries on and around his off-stump on the juicy wickets of Jamaica and Bridgetown.
Vijay departed for 5 in the second innings but his brisk 45 in the second essay, it included a couple of flowing off-drives, indicated his days in Test cricket were not over yet. There was no denying his ability.
When the new selection panel, headed by Sandeep Patil, picked the 28-year-old Vijay in the squad for the first two home Tests against England, it had done so more on potential than any outstanding recent form.
The reasoning might have been “If we keep him in the mix and give him a run at the appropriate time, he could come good.” There is a lot that is pleasing about Vijay’s batsmanship. When he made his Test debut in a crunch game against Australia at Nagpur in 2008, the right-hander impressed.
More than his innings of 33 and 44 against a probing pace attack, Vijay caught the eye with his poise and the ability to sway away from the lifting deliveries without taking his eyes off the ball. And he ‘played’ and ‘left’ competently in the corridor.
Subsequently, Vijay had his moments in Tests. His immaculate 87 against Sri Lanka in Mumbai in 2009, had the timing and the ease of a natural.
Then his 139 against Australia in Bangalore in 2010 — a match-winning effort — showcased his ability to soak in the pressures of a big game and make a statement.
But then, Vijay only received his chances at the top of the order only when either Gambhir or Sehwag was missing, either owing to fitness or personal reasons.
Resultantly, he was left out of the next Test — against New Zealand at home — that India played after Vijay’s three-figure heroics in the Garden City.
Sadly, when he was in fine nick, Vijay had to be omitted from the eleven. When opportunity came in the West Indies, Vijay suffered a slump in form.
On his part, Vijay’s performances away from home have been disappointing. In seven Tests abroad, he has 229 runs at just 19.08. In contrast, Vijay’s record at home — 380 runs in five Tests at 47.50 — is laudable.
It is this imbalance in his numbers in Tests that he would have to correct. A straighter back-lift without the batsman committing himself to the front foot could be the answer. Balance is the key. Vijay will need to look at this England series (commencing on November 15) and beyond.