Patient Vijay scripts a lead role for himself
M Vijay opening with Virender Sehwag is a bit like Rajnikanth - a regional-language superstar, unequalled in his domain for his style and swagger - making a guest appearance in a Hollywood film featuring the industry's undisputed superstar. It is mostly a walk-on part but Vijay leaves us something to remember the role by - one line, one shot.
Vijay doesn't often get to work with Sehwag, but as usually happens with important sidekicks, he gets an important enough introduction. He tries to create impossible run-outs from forward short-leg, takes a few good catches without bothering to run too hard, and Sehwag even trusts him enough to let him take first strike.
Vijay hasn't been completely forgotten eiither, which sometimes can happen with the best of batsmen when batting with Sehwag. To manage to make an impact of your own when Sehwag is batting with you is not easy. The 87 Vijay scored off 121 balls against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium was superb, but in comparison with Sehwag's ultra-cool 293 it was but a footnote. We don't remember much of the Brabourne innings, but we do remember that Vijay brought up his fifty off 79 balls by hitting Muttiah Muralitharan over his head for a six. Sehwag was obviously proud, and hugged him. We don't remember much of what Vijay did when Sehwag was attacking yesterday, but we remember the drive he played between the bowler and the umpire.
In a way, the things Sehwag is known for can be said of Vijay in domestic cricket, the IPL and the Champions League. He may not be as cool as Sehwag - well, not many can be - but there is a clear emphasis on style. When it comes to Test cricket, though, Vijay is in a new place, in front of audience that doesn't necessarily know him. And his opening partner is obviously the big draw. At times the big stage overwhelms Vijay, and when he does put in a performance, it is in a scene dominated by Sehwag.
Some time after Sehwag's dismissal yesterday, though, Vijay must have realised that all these guest appearances full of swagger are fine, but they are not transforming into roles in future films. He made compromises with style, but he also got himself a bigger role. When the last 20 minutes yesterday were played in dodgy light, Vijay shut shop and let Tendulkar take most of the strike. This morning he didn't even try to compete with Tendulkar, who hooked, pulled, lofted and cut his way to hundred. Slowly, unnoticed almost, Vijay added runs, scoring just 31 off 88 in the first session. Most of the time was spent getting out of the way of bouncers, with wrists dropping early. Ducking was not the smart option because of the low bounce.
Vijay swaggered out in the second session, flicking Ben Hilfenhaus for four, and charging down to Nathan Hauritz for four and six. That just drew the bad guys' attention towards him, and they went after him. Bouncer after bouncer followed. Now he was saving his ribs, now he was getting his gloves out of the way. Slips, gully, short leg and leg gully waited for the lame poke. Vijay refused to budge.
It took him 54 balls to get from 87 to a maiden hundred. In going from 98 to 100, Vijay negotiated 13 back-to-back short balls from Peter George. Before that, Hilfenhaus gave him a working over, and came close to getting him out.
Vijay, though, was not getting anxious to get it done with. He waited and waited before the single presented itself. Then he jumped in jubilation. Then an equally overjoyed Tendulkar came to hug him. This was something entirely different. Not some golden cap at the Champions League. Not a hundred in first-class cricket. This was a hundred in front of a packed and loud crowd, in a Test that could have gone wrong for his side had he not buckled down.
There was grudging respect from the opposition. "We saw that he didn't really like playing on the back foot," Mitchell Johnson said. "We tried to do something about it by bowling short. And getting close fielders behind the wicket. He played extremely well and he was very patient. It was a good hundred by him, what more can I say?"
That wait when Australia peppered him with the bouncers was the most impressive part of Vijay's innings. It said a lot about his temperament. Of course a few stylish shots followed after his progression to hundred had left the bowlers exhausted. The wait said a lot about his temperament. He will need to use that patience some more, for he might have to relinquish his place to Gautam Gambhir when the latter is fit. At least a determined hundred, as opposed to a stylish 40, will make the selectors give it a thought before leaving Vijay out.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo