Rajasthan v Rest of India, Irani Cup, Bangalore, 3rd day September 23, 2012

Vijay starts season on a high

Irrespective of how easy the conditions were, Vijay's 10-hour arduous effort should help him in the race for an India Test spot

For a batsman ignored by the national selectors, nothing helps make a case like a big hundred. M Vijay scored the biggest in the Irani Cup's 53-year history, a career-best effort that deflated the Ranji champions Rajasthan.

There will be carping about the blunt Rajasthan attack - three quick bowlers bowling at an amiable 115kph, and two spinners with career averages over 50 - and the featherbed at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on which each of the specialist Rest of India batsmen scored at least a half-century.

The combination of a weak opposition and a flat track might seem a perfect fill-your-boots formula for a batsman, but the trouble is that a failure will be greeted with a, "he can't even score against these guys?" response, and any runs scored will be pooh-poohed.

The sheer magnitude of runs Vijay accumulated, though, should help almost completely sidestep that conundrum. A small century in Bangalore, and it would have grabbed no one's attention, but sticking around for more than ten hours is arduous, irrespective of how easy the conditions are.

There was plenty to admire about Vijay's innings, not least the endurance and concentration of a batsman who has made the headlines in the past year and a half more for his IPL performances. There was no slogging either, the bulk of his runs coming through orthodox drives down the ground and through cover.

"My conscious thing was the wicket was getting slower, so I didn't want to play across the line," Vijay said after the third day's play. "I just wanted to keep it straight, maybe if the ball swings a bit I can use the flick because that is my strength."

Till he had almost reached 200, it was a flawless innings as well - he was hardly beaten. The only blemish was the lackadaisical running between the wickets at some stages.

Another highlight of the performance was Vijay's fitness. Even after a day-and-a-half in the middle, he didn't look tired, and when Rajasthan came out to bat late in the evening, Vijay didn't choose to rest up after his batting exploits, coming out to take his place in the field.

He could have even gone on to a bigger score. "Not really thinking of a triple-hundred then, not really, I just wanted to get close to it and if it is my day… now that I have missed it, I feel bad."

Vijay was also pleased that he had scored in the season-opener. "I was just preparing for this game, after a long time I was playing a five-day game, after Ranji Trophy I hadn't played any five-day game, more or less 50-50 or Twenty20, so I just wanted to get my flow going in the longer version, because that will help me a lot."

Finding his form in the five-day game is crucial for Vijay, who had an intermittent three-year spell as Test opener before a disastrous tour of the Caribbean pushed him out of his position as back-up opener. A year on, he has fallen so far down in the selectors' estimation that he wasn't even considered for the A squads.

How badly was he affected by the axeing? "It's not all in my hands, I can just take it in my stride and move forward, be a better cricketer," he said. "It was really a test for me, initially I was disappointed and I accepted the reality, you know, you have to work on your game, and this is a nice chance for you to analyse yourself and become a better cricketer."

He began the Ranji season poorly after being dropped from the national team, and though he started turning in better performances in the second half to help Tamil Nadu reach the final, he was firmly behind both Ajinkya Rahane and Abhinav Mukund in the race for the opening berth. With Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir not having as firm a grip on their spots, opportunities are bound to arise for the chasing pack. Vijay's 266 is the perfect start to the season, at least to keep him in the openers' race.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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