India v Australia, 4th Test, Delhi, 2nd day March 23, 2013

M Vijay's remarkable turnaround

M Vijay's gritty 57 is just another sign of his remarkable transformation from a flashy batsman to a controlled, solid run-getter

On a day when summer temperatures hit Delhi with a vengeance, Kotla's parched earth of a pitch did its best impersonation of a prima donna throwing a fit. Eleven wickets fell obligingly and sledging filled the air.

David Warner had a go at MS Dhoni, Aleem Dar ticked off Warner and asked stand-in Australian captain Shane Watson to rein in his men, James Pattinson had a go at M Vijay, and Vijay had a right go at those asking him questions after stumps.

For all of Cheteshwar Pujara's appetite for the big scores, MS Dhoni's Test-changing double century in Chennai and Shikhar Dhawan's jaw-dropping Test debut, it is Vijay who has scored more runs than any batsman on either team.

He began the series with scores of 10 and 6 in Chennai before leaping ahead of the queue with a run that reads: 167, 153, 26 and 57. He is the only batsman to score two centuries in the series (or "tournament", as he calls it) and has opened the innings for India with total composure and patience, every time India have batted second on pre-fab pitches made to aid the Indian spinners.

Top scorer in the Indian first innings in Delhi so far, Vijay was asked what had led to a tangible transformation in his batting. The question ended thus: "What have you done to make yourself go from someone who had a tendency to throw away his wicket to someone who is prepared to grind his way out for the team?" It is a question Vijay has been asked for two Tests in a row and he has talked about being shaken by his second innings dismissal in Chennai and batting for his life in Hyderabad. It is a question he will be asked by every new interviewer over the next few months because the change has been extraordinary.

In Kotla, he responded with a bark and bite that belonged to the pitch rather than the press conference room: "I think I have to approach you after the meeting, you have told me everything." Charming. And unfortunate, because it is this metamorphosis from a flashy shot-maker to a solid determined frontman that has marked Vijay's growth and progress in the series.

Before leaving the room he did rattle off, "It has been a good tournament for me, personally I am really enjoying at the moment. I just want to contribute to my team as much as I can." Vijay's contribution towards the Indian batting in the series has been enormous. It was a fact reflected yet again in the middle on Saturday, when his 108-run partnership with makeshift opener Cheteshwar Pujara was the meat and potatoes of the Indian response to Australia's first innings of 261. Vijay's 57 was an innings created from the sweat and muscle required of openers when faced with a track that makes bowlers burst into song.

The Australian seamers turned up in chorus. They had found existence of life that they recognised this morning at the Kotla and Vijay survived severe interrogation with the new ball.

Mitchell Johnson, who was wayward but produced gems that keep batsmen honest, was his strictest examiner. Of the 19 he scored off 46 balls from Johnson, three edges fell short and flew to the third man. The fourth boundary was clipped to fine leg at the first whiff of the ball tailing down leg.

Vijay's innings was an ideal example of not only trying to play the ball on its merit but wiping away the memory of the previous ball when either found pushing at air or producing an edge that fell short. He got behind the ball and, until his dismissal, kept body and bat away from the short stuff duly ducking and swaying. His short backlift worked for him as he got down on balls that kept low and when a bowler of Pattinson's pace got a few to climb, he was able to play comfortably on the bounce.

Run-making at the Kotla, he said, was hard. "It is very difficult to find the gaps. The wicket is getting slow, it is tough to judge the speed of the delivery. I could have stayed a little longer but got out at the wrong time, I guess."

He did play a shot, though, that belonged to a picture book. It came early in the innings against Pattinson and the new ball. To one swinging in, it was as if Vijay had flipped the ball over, like a cook does an omelette. Who knows what hands and what wrists caused it to fly adeptly in the vacant space available near the midwicket fielder.

The rest of the attractive parts of Vijay's batting, his screamer shots, were left in the dressing room. Only when Nathan Lyon turned up did he look slightly hungry for some post-lunch show-stoppers. Off his fourth ball from Lyon, he stepped out and produced the 'voila!' moment that had the Sunday crowd screaming as he played against the spin, over the in-field to the mid-off fence.

Vijay had crossed his 50 just before tea, having battled the wicket and the bowling. But Kotla was not about to give him any handouts in appreciation. Three overs into the final session, a ball from Peter Siddle hit a crack and shot towards his face. He stuck his gloves in the way to prevent himself from being beaned.

It is only the second day of the Test which he knew "could go either way." India will bat last and Vijay spoke manfully about chasing "whatever target they set." If he does produce an innings made of steel like the 57 on Saturday, he will once again be asked about his transformation. There's no hiding away from it or sledging at it.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Hamish on March 24, 2013, 3:41 GMT

    @SSchigaco, look im sorry, but to be frank, you're so wrong it's not funny. These Indian pitches suit seamers, and only one type of batsmen; the wristy ones and those who are able to play spin. Sure, South african pictches are green, but even still, the majority still take spin, even before days 4 and 5. Just look at ajmal's 5. You can argue that pitches should be diverse between places, but not to the extent of completely eridicating the threat of a whole category/aspect in pace bowling

    Australian pitches are universally accredited as the best, with England's close to being as such. They provide something to everyone: assistance to pace on days 1 and 5 (variable bounce), flatten out on 2 and 3 for the batsmen, and there's assistance for the spinners on 4 and 5. These Indian pitches are pathetic. The idea of selective watering is so unfair it is not funny. You guys preach that all the non indian pitches are green, but the whitewash in aus, there was not a single green wicket. Not one.

  • vishwas on March 24, 2013, 3:35 GMT

    i was the one who said vijay is not suited for test cricket, but he is slowly proving me wrong...... but its too early for him to be praised.... he is definatley improved when it coems to occupying the crease, and when it comes to restricting some shots..... but what i absorved in the last match he strugle against moving ball..... i hope he will improve on this and score big runs in SA tour.......

  • Ranj on March 24, 2013, 3:28 GMT

    Spot on -Rajiv Rathinam. I think people forget that the Vijay they see now is actually the old Vijay, before IPL happened. Vijay 3.0 can bat for days, grits it out and can also go ballistic when he needs to. Dont judge him based on the WI series, when he was short on confidence from being in and out of the playing 11. I am not surprised that he got mad at the reporter who asked that question. Everyone thinks Vijay = IPL fireworks and forgets his first 100 against Aus (139 with Tendulkar's help) where he had a very low strike rate.

  • Dummy4 on March 24, 2013, 1:59 GMT

    Technique cannot change overnight. I have read most of them regarding Vijay as technically sound. It is hard to agree. He purely relies on timing and that could be useful. Ask Laxman.

  • Ashik on March 24, 2013, 1:58 GMT

    @SSChicago... I believe this is a wrong idea... They are just playing in grounds that suit their bowlers.... The Bouncy WACA to spinning and turning Kotla all present their own unique challenges... A test batsman needs to be able to handle the spin and pace alike... so I wouldn't agree with you.

  • Chris on March 24, 2013, 0:20 GMT

    I've been waiting for this article. Vijay's transformation in this series will be my lasting (positive) memory of it.

    As a cricket lover, I don't care who's succeeding or who's number 1, I just want to see great cricketers, great cricket and competitive (not one-sided) cricket.

    Vijay in this series has transformed himself into a Test batsman that people will enjoy going to watch. He has gained that most valuable attribute of all for a batsman: valuing your wicket.

    Well done, mate

  • Dummy4 on March 24, 2013, 0:01 GMT

    If Vijay can maintain this kind of application, it would be very, very useful. On the one hand we need another aggressive opener, like Sehwag in his prime and what we have now in Dhawan. To balance that we need an Alastair Cook type player who settles in for the long-haul.

  • Raj on March 23, 2013, 23:56 GMT

    Why some give negative comments on him. These are typically - flat track bully, edged, ave attack... ok. i can accept all. just answer me one question. What our master (with 40k runs) doing with this same opponent. Accept new comers and encourage them.

  • Dummy4 on March 23, 2013, 22:49 GMT

    Test Match batting is lot of skill and lot more of the stuff between the ears and steel. Having said that Vijay had previously shown very little of skill and none of the other two key ingredients. But this series has been very refreshing and showed lot of maturity [shot selection/execution, determination to stay at the wicket] and some skills [playing with soft hands]. Just enjoy the show and hope that he will continue for some time. Don't jump too far ahead and come to a conclusion about his performance in SA. Good job Vijay and keep up buddy.

  • Alex on March 23, 2013, 22:36 GMT

    whilst Vijay has played very well in this test and the last 2 test, i think you have to resolve a bit of judgement about him until we see him facing the new ball in Eng/SA/Aus. As of yet he has scored all his 100's in India and hasn't got a run, in any form of the game away from the sub continent.

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