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November 4, 2008
The Indian selectors have called up Tamil Nadu opener M Vijay as cover for Gautam Gambhir for the fourth Test against Australia in Nagpur. While it appears a surprising choice, Vijay, 24, has been in good form this season. He was India A's leading scorer in a two-Test series against New Zealand A, the second-highest run-getter in the recent Challenger Trophy, and heads to Nagpur after scoring 243 in the Ranji match against Maharashtra currently underway in Nasik.
Vijay was, in fact, cutting a cake in celebration of that double-century when news of his India call-up reached him. "I was thrilled…It's an obvious dream of any cricketer to play for his country and I am confident that I can shine," he said.
His call-up is consistent with a tendency to rise quickly through the ranks. He took up cricket proper relatively late, at 17 within a couple of years, he was playing for Chemplast on Chennai's club circuit and made his first-class debut at 22.
Those who have watched him closely over the years weren't surprised by Tuesday's news. "People will no doubt talk but I can vouch for the talent of the man," former selector VB Chandrasekhar said. " A tight technique and I hear he has a sound temperament. This boy has it in him to play international cricket."
Vijay's confidence is his calling card, according to his Tamil Nadu coach WV Raman. He recalled Vijay's Ranji debut against a Delhi attack comprising Aashish Nehra and Ishant Sharma. "So how are you feeling?" Raman asked. "I am perfectly fine sir, no problem," Vijay replied, and followed it up with 59 and 38.
More proof of that talent came on a rank turner on the Guru Nanak Ground in Chennai. "It was the best innings by a young batsman in my recent memory," Raman recalled. "He moved confidently and did everything right on a square turner. To me the best thing about him is that he keeps things very simple."
K Srinath, the Tamil Nadu selector, came to the same conclusion a few years ago. "It was an under-19 game and I saw Vijay pull and cut majestically. I remember VB Chandrasekhar and me saying how pleasant it was to see a Indian player pull and cut." Srinath reckoned Vijay's strength was his back-foot play, an attribute that can in theory help him against international attacks. "That's the first thing that struck me. How well he plays off the back foot."
Nicknamed the "Monk" for his habit of frequently shaving his head, Vijay has impressed with his work ethic. "He was pretty defensive when he started but has grown into an allround player," Srinath said. "As he showed in the Challenger Series he can hit the ball a long way."
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