Vijay the millionaire meets Vijay the coal-miner
It is Johannesburg. India have been thumped in the ODIs, this is the first morning of the series, and Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel are going after you. There is bounce, there is swing, there is seam. M Vijay has seen his opening partner get out to a soft shot. He leaves alone 26 of the 42 balls played, scoring just six runs, but is determined to wait for a loose delivery, no matter how long it takes. There hasn't been any for 69 minutes, but he is willing to wait more. And then he gets a monster of almost mythical proportions. Morkel bowls on a length, just outside off, he plays for the angle, it leaves him, bounces too much, takes the edge, and the papers next day have 6 against his name.
In the second innings of the same Test, when everyone is filling his boots, Vijay edges a harmless delivery down the leg side. In the second Test, at Kingsmead, he shows some more discipline and grit, scores 97 at a strike rate of 43, and gets a brute from Steyn. He takes his bottom hand off as he fends, but the ball bounces extra on what has been a slow pitch, and takes his glove on the way through.
Over to New Zealand then. India have been hammered in ODIs again, have conceded 500 in the first innings of the series, and are now 51 for 3. Vijay, though, has dug in again, scoring 26 in 79 minutes. And then Neil Wagner goes round the wicket, getting as close to the side crease as he can without actually bowling a no-ball, and then gets the ball to hold its line against the angle and hits the top of his off stump. The customary strangle down leg shows up in the second innings.
In the first innings of the second Test, Tim Southee bowls one short of a length, wide enough to be left alone, the seam pointing towards slip, and Vijay relaxes thinking he has got a soft leave. The ball jags back, kicks at him, takes his glove on the way to the keeper. He gets another pretty good outswinger from Southee in the second innings.
So in the eight overseas innings that followed his two 150s against Australia at home, Vijay scored 196 runs. His opening partner, who has looked hopeless at times, has had just that little bit of luck that he is so good at capitalising upon. People, meanwhile, are singling Vijay out and ridiculing him as an opener, looking at the runs not at the minutes spent at the wicket, the incredible discipline it has taken for a stylish batsman to buckle down obsessively and to stick to it even when the results are not forthcoming. Or the lack of luck. People have made more mistakes in one innings than Vijay has in two series, and yet scored centuries.
Therefore nobody can begrudge Vijay the faith shown in him by his team management despite those numbers in the last four Tests. Nobody can begrudge him the bit of luck he has had at Trent Bridge. Those who believe in luck and those who have seen Vijay over his last two Test series would have seen the first over of the day would have expected a hundred today. The luck was changing. He edged a ball he didn't even want to play at, and got four for it. He pushed forward rather tentatively, got a thick edge, and again got four. If he had still failed today, he would have really kicked himself.
Those two boundaries, on a Trent Bridge pitch that needed only oranges and saoji cuisine to move out from Nottingham to Nagpur, gave Vijay the start he needed. The next ball was a half-volley on the pads, and Vijay tucked into it. Soon Vijay was 25 off 24 with six boundaries in it. All that hard work done over the last year was paying off.
Vijay is a moody batsman. One day he can bat like a millionaire, on another a coal-miner. He hasn't always been able to combine the two. He was unlucky in some of the instances mentioned above, but also paid the price for not putting all the bad balls away. On other occasions he has also been guilty of throwing it away playing a shot too many after getting off to a quick start. In this knock he mixed the two approaches perfectly.
By lunch Vijay had scored 55 off 89 already. The pitch was doing nothing, and a sunny afternoon awaited. Runs would be there for the taking, but England came back with an inspired session of bowling. They were accurate, they were intense, they reversed the ball, and they took out Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli within three overs after the restart. Runs dried up. This was the time to go down into the pits. The millionaire from the pre-lunch session removed his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and went a-digging.
Nothing summed it up more than the 38th over of the day. The ball had been reversing, and mostly it reverses in. That could have been the only possible explanation for the wicket of Kohli. He pushed at a wide one because at the back of his head expected it to reverse in, and wanted to guard his stumps. Anderson bowled two full deliveries, just outside off, and normally you would be playing at them because they are expected to bend back in. Unless you spot clearly and early that the shiny side is on outside. Vijay had, and left them alone. Twice more he shouldered arms in that over, and when the shine was on the inside he strode forward and defended.
Vijay waited for the loose balls thereafter. There weren't many, but he was patient. He scored only 38 in the middle session and 30 in the last. From 92 to 99 he took 24 balls. Then spent another 13 on 99. Luck was shining on him again when he called MS Dhoni through for a non-existent single. Dhoni was willing to risk sacrificing his wicket. With Vijay's luck over the last year or so, the throw would have hit the stumps, and Dhoni would have been run out with Vijay on 99, and that would have messed with Vijay's head. Not today.
Vijay was not out of the pits yet, though. He allowed himself a few shots before playing 35 straight dot balls leading up to the stumps. He might have been setting himself up for day two: ten of his 13 first-class centuries before this have been 139 or more, including three double-centuries.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo