India v Sri Lanka, 3rd Test, Mumbai November 30, 2009

Opportunity knocks twice for Vijay

It couldn't have been scripted better. Murali Vijay entered the room as S Badrinath left it, and proceeded to take the place on the sofa vacated by his Tamil Nadu team-mate and former captain, the man under whom he made his first-class debut for Tamil Nadu. While Badrinath is yet to play a Test for India, Vijay is getting ready to play his second after an eventful debut against Australia last year in Nagpur.

"It is really good," Vijay told Cricinfo about his past year. "I just want to get a start if I play."

Last year, he was called up at the last minute after Gautam Gambhir was forced to sit out following his one-match ban over an altercation with Shane Watson.

Vijay was rushed from Nasik, where he had scored a big century in a Ranji Trophy Super League game against Maharashtra, to Nagpur. He didn't disappoint, getting starts in both innings (33 & 41) and, importantly, sharing vital opening stands of 98 and 116 with Virender Sehwag.

"I was just blank when I went in to bat. Maybe I could have done better but the team won the game", Vijay said. He picked up a few tips from his heroes in the Indian dressing room and applied them at the domestic level. "Great players always say that it is important to keep performing at the domestic level, then it is easy to get established at the international level as you learn things like handling pressure."

It seems to have paid off. He began this season with 92 in the second innings of the Irani Cup encounter against Rest of India, then scored half-centuries in the first two Ranji Trophy matches and 148 against Punjab after he was released from the first Test squad in Ahmedabad.

"I've learned a lot of things and I've managed to enhance my own game. In New Zealand, I learnt how to handle the moving ball and how to deal with the crowd pressure back home. So I hope I do well when I get my turn next time."

Vijay may be warming the bench for Gambhir, who will miss the final Test in Mumbai to attend his sister's wedding, but he believes Sehwag and Gambhir are India's most successful opening pair and that both have a solid temperament. His desire to score runs though, is immense.

"I want to prove myself each game I play, for my state or for India," Vijay said. "The only way I can do that is not think too much."

He said it was an "honour" to partner Sehwag at the top of the order as well. "Opening with him takes the pressure off you, because no bowler can stop him," Vijay said. "The way he approaches his game, he is mentally very strong and handles the situation the way he wants to. He talks about cricket a lot to lighten me up."

Vijay has been on the fringes of the Test side for the past year now and is the first-choice replacement for either Sehwag or Gambhir. He has already been part of four series in those twelve months including the latest against Sri Lanka.

Vijay has utilised his time as a reserve in a positive fashion. His priority was to focus on strengthening his temperament in all situations and Paddy Upton, India's mental conditioning coach, has been a big help. "He [Upton] has talked to me about how I could handle pressure. He has stressed on keeping things simple."

He has learnt various techniques of facing the new ball from coach Gary Kirsten as well. "The best part about him is you can go up to him and ask him for an extra knock. Being an opener he points out particular stuff and you can pick a lot of stuff from him considering he was such a successful opener."

Vijay has practised hard in the last week - getting throw-downs from the Kirsten-Upton pair in Kanpur, followed by an hour-long optional nets session on Monday in Mumbai under the coach's observation. His plans though, remained straight and simple. They were no different in Nagpur where he didn't get much time to make personal plans.

This time he is more relaxed even if he was not too sure about getting enough sleep on the eve of the game. "As it gets closer I might have some sleepless nights," he said.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo