Australia in India 2016-17 March 13, 2017

The fascinating and frustrating Vijay experience

M Vijay approaches his 50th Test having played important innings for the side all over the world, yet he has not quite dominated a series like his peers in the India team
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Archive: 'When I bat, I want to play as many balls as possible'

Three days before the Bengaluru Test, M Vijay appeared at a press conference in which two major talking points went un-talked-about. The first was the fact that Vijay was carrying a shoulder injury that could - and eventually did - keep him out of the Test match. Neither did Anil Kumble the next day nor Virat Kohli on the eve of the game mention it, even when asked if the team had any injury concerns. It seemed, in the end, that India had kept this bit of news well hidden to keep Abhinav Mukund - who replaced his Tamil Nadu opening partner at the Chinnaswamy Stadium - out of the spotlight, and out of Australia's pre-match planning.

The other fact that went unnoticed at Vijay's press conference was that he had played 49 Tests. No one asked him about his thoughts on playing his 50th Test, or about the long, winding and sometimes precarious path that had taken him there.

It felt somehow appropriate, befitting a batsman who, while playing the innings of his life, a first-day 144 in the scorching heat of the Gabba, caressed Shane Watson through the covers, ambled back to his crease, looked up, bemused that the crowd hadn't stopped applauding, and only realised he had moved from 96 to 100 when told so by his batting partner Ajinkya Rahane. There has always been a streak of absentmindedness in Vijay's cricket.

Fifty Test matches. Twenty-eight Indian cricketers have reached this milestone, of whom only four - Sunil Gavaskar (125 Tests), Virender Sehwag (103), Gautam Gambhir (58) and Navjot Singh Sidhu (51) - have been full-time opening batsmen. Shoulder permitting, Vijay will join them in Ranchi.

It will have taken Vijay an awfully long time, by the standards of his day, to get there. He made his debut back in 2008, in Sourav Ganguly's farewell Test, and has missed 37 of India's 86 Tests since then. He spent three years making sporadic appearances whenever Virender Sehwag or, more often, Gautam Gambhir was out injured. He went through an identity crisis as to what kind of batsman he wanted to be, and spent two years out of the side before coming back to establish himself, belatedly, as India's first-choice opening batsman.

While Cheteshwar Pujara has averaged over fifty seven times while playing more than one match in a series, M Vijay has done so only twice © AFP

All of this has contributed to a Test record that is, at first glance, a little underwhelming: 3307 runs at an average of 39.84, this while he has been part of a batting line-up whose three other long-standing members - Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Rahane - average over 45.

The average is a product of all the contradictory forces that make Vijay one of the most fascinating and frustrating batsmen of our time.

There are few obvious weaknesses in his game: he leaves as well as anyone of his generation; he defends with soft hands, close to his body, and against spin is seldom caught on the wrong foot; he doesn't have a huge array of attacking shots against the short ball, but is seldom hurried by it; he is beautifully balanced against balls aimed at the stumps, and is almost never forced into playing around his front pad.

If there has been any pattern to his recent dismissals, it's a tendency to fend at rising balls in the fourth-stump channel, but if it's a hard ball to negotiate, it's just as hard to deliver accurately. It isn't, in short, a massive weakness.

Vijay's technical gifts have allowed him to play innings of substance all over the world: at Kingsmead, Trent Bridge, Lord's, the Gabba, the P Sara Oval, and at various Indian venues against seam and spin. Hardly a series goes by without at least one significant contribution from him.

But he seldom dominates a series. Through his entire career, he has only averaged more than 50 twice while playing more than one match in a series. Compare that to Kohli (8), Pujara (7), or Rahane (6). When they are in form, they really make it count. Vijay, for some reason, doesn't.

And so, the average. 39.84. It isn't what it could be, but it is what it is. Much like Vijay himself. His fans will hope his 50th Test will bring with it a series-defining hundred, but they will not be too disappointed if he only makes 31. It's all part of the Vijay experience.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vk6848 on March 16, 2017, 15:45 GMT

    With due respect to all top Indian batsmen, I have to say that Murali Vijay is the best when it comes to the aesthetics of batting.

  • Jeganlal on March 15, 2017, 15:13 GMT

    The monk will get back to his trance state at Ranchi. Congratulations M.Vijay on your feat.

  • Naresh28 on March 15, 2017, 8:23 GMT

    @fairfan70 - look to Rishabh Pant as one opener for the future. He already opens in ODI and is Shewag type player.

  •   Vijay Srinivas on March 14, 2017, 18:30 GMT

    Both Vijay and Pujara should expand beyond the horizon of Test Cricket. Pujara should try playing ODIs as well, and Vijay should venture T20s.

  • Mr_Anonymous on March 14, 2017, 17:11 GMT

    I think he lacks a steady opening partner lacking although when fit both he and Rahul look good to stay there at the top of the order for the near future. He is definitely more consistent and more patient than Dhawan and a good opener even in overseas conditions.

    His inability to dominate an attack or series is probably his biggest drawback. Let's hope he reads this article and is able to motivate himself to achieve more. He is ~33 and so perhaps still has a few years left for his Test career. A couple of double hundreds in his Test career and ending with a career average of 45+ would be a good goal.

  • fairfan70 on March 14, 2017, 15:14 GMT

    Vijay's form has been less than sound for at least a year and half now notwithstanding sporadic successes. He seems neither confident in facing the spinners nor pace & swing bowlers. Abhinav Mukund is just not cut for international cricket. Rahul is so-so with a few half centuries lately. In summary, the opening combination remains a conundrum waiting to be resolved by the selectors.

  • Cricinfouser on March 14, 2017, 14:57 GMT

    GR8GAU I have been noticing that you are the only one who is critical of Vijay. Vijay is the best opener we have currently. You are calling him a club level batsman. He has scored in SA WI Eng Aus Ban SL And even at home. Where more do you want him to score?And coming to Stuart Binny. What has he done to deserve a place in the Indian side? He has been quite mediocre even in first class cricket. Considering Binny's current form he doesn't deserve a place.Even if Vijay doesn't score he plays out a lot of balls and makes that the shine is taken off

  • bmans on March 14, 2017, 14:37 GMT

    This is what frustrates me about the whole Indian team. Vijay plays well at the start of the series. Ajinkya plays towards end of the series. The 2nd opener position keeps changing as they get injured and you dont know when they'll score and when not. Virat has been consistent in last series but not this one. Pujara is not up and down and the most reliable batsmen atleast at home. Our not-so-tail of Ashwin. Jaddu, Saha and the 3 spinner have scored runs in almost all series since South Africa and probably the most consistent. At home and SL, WI, this wasnt big of a problem but when we tour SA, Aus, Eng, NZ this will hurt us. I understand not every batsmen can play well in all the matches but its important that the batsmen in form has to continue playing big knocks. The main difference between 2008-2011 team and this current team.

  • Death-Bowler on March 14, 2017, 14:21 GMT

    It is really laughable when someone says Vijay is a club level batsman. It shows that they know neither club level cricket nor international level cricket. Vijay is indeed one of the best available openers along with Mukund that we have now. Given that Lokesh is a real upcoming talent, the only thing BCCi can do at this stage is to stick with Vijay and Lokesh.

  • nansid99 on March 14, 2017, 14:21 GMT

    I don't think anyone writes like this about Rohit Sharma who was given a number of chances to prove himself but failed. Selectors are still looking at every opportunity to bring him into the 11. Please stop these types of nonsensical articles. Vijay is a very under rated batsman who has showed that he can play anywhere (not just in the sub-continent) and has proved that he can withstand pace and spin.

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