Vijay keeps himself in contention
The Irani Cup has proved a boon for M Vijay twice in the same season, and it has helped that India's regular openers are not in the best form for him to stay in the reckoning. His knock of 266 for Rest of India in September put him back in the spotlight after more than a year out of the Test team following a series of below-par performances, but the subsequent Ranji season seemed to undermine that achievement. In five games for Tamil Nadu, he managed a highest of just 42 and an average of 17.25, but his 76 for India A against England was a timely boost. He has followed that up with a century on a big stage ahead of a major Test series, albeit in a manner, and at a time, different from his 10-hour effort in September.
That innings was virtually flawless until Vijay had reached his double-century, and a result of a determination to bat big. His free-flowing 116 today came under circumstances that would find him under greater pressure. September was the start of a long season; this could probably be his final opportunity this season to make an impression, since he's not part of Board President's XI or the India A squads against Australia.
Vijay admitted his "motivational level was high" coming in to this match, and that he realised how important this game was for 'fringe' players like himself. Shaky to start his innings against the moving ball, he didn't hesitate to reach out to drive when deliveries were pitched up as he settled in, was harsh against the short ball, his stand-out flick through mid-on and midwicket flowed freely and brought up his century.
Mumbai's bowlers erred too often, provided ample width - one of Vijay's 18 boundaries was an upper-cut six over third man. The spinners were largely ineffective, and Shardul Thakur bowled a no-ball off which he Vijay was caught-behind on 79. The conditions, too, didn't necessitate any undue restraint, and Vijay's confident approach was not exclusive to him on a day his team dominated with the bat.
Vijay's batting makes for attractive strokeplay, but at the Test level he's shown a tendency to get out playing loose shots, and this was evident during the tour of the West Indies in 2011 after which he lost his Test place. He managed a highest of 45 in six innings then, partnering Abhinav Mukund, spooning catches to point, offering catches to the keeper while stepping out to play what appeared like a half-hearted push.
But it's precisely such an approach that has got him runs in the shortest format, and today those punches, firm pushes, clips off the pads, found their desired target. What was intriguing was he chose to play that way in a game - for which he was most certainly selected for his potential than his recent statistics - that could decide his immediate Test future.
"I enjoyed my batting here as I always do, I just wanted to see the ball and hit," Vijay said. He may have regretted doing that when he edged Thakur on 79, attempting an expansive drive against a moving delivery. The reprieve ultimately got him a century, but his eventual dismissal served as a reminder of his struggles in tougher times. "I was a bit lazy, I could have played a little straighter," he said about being bowled by a reverse-swinging delivery from Abhishek Nayar.
That laziness has cost him in the past. Has it done so again at a time when there were more runs for the taking, or has Vijay done enough for the selectors, who saw him bat at the Wankhede, to consider him seriously for the upcoming Tests? His second innings, and the warm-up games against Australia that don't feature him but do some of his competitors, could help provide a clearer picture.
Siddhartha Talya is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo