South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 1st day December 26, 2013

Vijay finds middle ground

M Vijay can look a star or a pretender, but in Durban today he produced a pivotal innings which may very well set the platform for more to come

Manjrekar: Impressed with Vijay's patience

M Vijay gives you the impression of being a moody batsman. When it clicks for him, he can effortlessly play some of the most extraordinary shots. When it doesn't, Vijay can look ugly, scratching around, playing half-hearted shots and then eventually nicking a wide delivery. Despite three sizeable hundreds - 139, 167 and 158 - in 19 Tests before this, his average was only 37. Vijay has had no middle ground. It manifests itself in that he is an IPL star and a Test opener, but he struggles in ODIs.

Vijay averaged 17.25 in Ranji Trophy last year, but was still picked for higher levels, a punt he repaid with back-to-back 150s against Australia. Again, what was missing in his career was something between a million dollar and nothing. Innings where he would struggle, but still fight it out. Each of his three innings on this tour so far has ticked that box.

There is nothing spectacular about what Vijay has done on this tour, but he has gritted it out, more so in Johannesburg than here in Durban, where the conditions have been more like India than South Africa. Even on the first day at the Wanderers when he scored just 6, Vijay spent more than an hour at the wicket, refusing to go looking for runs when they were not available. Eventually he got a beauty from Morne Morkel, which might have got great batsmen out.

In the second innings, Vijay stuck around for longer, saw the new ball off when South Africa's bowlers would have been at their most charged. It tired the bowlers - Morkel got injured - and the base was set for Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara to dominate. What Vijay has managed in Durban - he is nine short of what could be his first century outside India and against a team other than Australia - has its root in the Johannesburg struggle.

Even at Kingsmead, he was cautious and patient at the start. The pitch was to his liking, but he gave the bowlers due respect before opening up. The most threatening balls here were the ones Morkel got to jump from just short of a length. Vijay scored only 9 off 33 deliveries from Morkel. The one time he got adventurous against the tall fast bowler was when he had reached his fifty, but that outside edge - his only boundary off Morkel - would have reinforced the need for caution against South Africa's best bowler of the series.

The other weapon South Africa tried was short-and-fast bowling. Vijay was hit on the arm, he was hit on the guard, but he marched on. Well not quite. Progress was slow, but there was a price on his wicket. The loose deliveries came once again from South Africa's spinner, Robin Peterson, who began with a full toss that was put away for four.

Vijay was 20 off 52 when Peterson came on but those few loose overs gave him confidence and he began to flow freely. That spell of freedom continued until he reached the 70s with successive fours off Vernon Philander, which suggested he was playing in south India and not South Africa. He felt confident, and could play in front of the body now. When Philander overpitched, Vijay placed it gracefully through the covers. The next one was shorter and wide. Vijay was nowhere near it, but punched deliberately over cover.

South Africa tightened up again, except for the re-emergence of Peterson, which helped Vijay to the 90s. Towards the end, though, in fading light, they went back to testing the batsman's patience with quick and short bowling with a leg trap in place. Vijay didn't look the most comfortable, but he survived the period, scoring just one run in 23 balls. He lived to fight another day.

This was neither Vijay's most attractive innings nor his best, but it is worth 91 and is the middle ground his career needed.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 28, 2013, 5:08 GMT

    Perhaps the author should find a middle ground neutral between north and south.

  • Jagan on December 27, 2013, 12:47 GMT

    In good old days, test batsmen left lots and lots of deliveries going outside their off stumps. Over the years, sub continent cricketers, due to lots of limited over games, became compulsive front foot drivers of the ball. The lack of bounce on the sub continent wickets too is very conducive for such stroke play. The art of leaving balls going outside the off is slowly on a decline. What Vijay did in these 2 games against SA was, leave a plenty going on and around the off stump. This was a huge difference to his success. It is not easy though to know which ones to leave and which not to leave (I am sure you all saw Rohit leave one today). All he needed was an overseas tour that he can return from with loads of self esteem and self confidence. With his place assured, I can see him lot more freely and also with a flair that we have seen from him every once in a while. At this level, it is 50% skills and 50% mental strength. Hope Vijay will get there soon!

  • RAJARAMAN on December 27, 2013, 8:39 GMT

    Vijay first came into Indian team on the strength of his heavy as well as consistent scoring in domestic circuit ... showed gumption for fight ... lost his way in between but grabbed the latest chance given to him ... if he develops strong attitude, he will succeed ... Vijay has booked his place at least to NZ ... may be Rayudu will lose his place to Gambhir for that tour ... otherwise, same team must deliver the goods in the days to come ... well done India

  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2013, 8:32 GMT

    @Ashwin Ram Vijay Better Than Sehwag.... Good Joke Buddy... The way sehwag can dominate a bowling attack no other batsman in the world can do so. the pitch the bowlers nothing else effects sehwags scoring. no doubt Vijay has played a gem of a innings but please dnt say he is better than sehwag.

  • KISH on December 27, 2013, 8:16 GMT

    @ jimbond, You have no idea about the guy's confidence and strong mind. He was smashing runs in test matches against the invincible Aussies of early 2000's. I knew at that time, this is one of the guys who should be a permanent in the Indian team. If your top 20 are batsmen who scored just raw runs within India, regardless of the opposition, ground, etc, then Vijay may not be there. But, international cricket needs guts and confidence to perform. Vijay has certainly got it. So does KKD Karthik. For some strange reasons, KKD is not there. But, time will hopefully get him there. This has nothing to do with the region where they are coming from. I am talking about the same kind of guts and confidence displayed by Kapildev, Ravi Shastri, Sehwag, Dravid, Gavaskar, Tendulkar, Kiran More, Sreesanth who are all from different regions. However, I hope Vijay play more aggressively when he comes to Australia. Because, that is the best way to play against the aussies.

  • Varnendra on December 27, 2013, 7:45 GMT

    Pujara best in the world? No way. He can't clear the field if good bowlers set containing fields so if he is required to score quick runs to win a test match he can't. It is due to both lack of physical clout and technique. India's best batsman is Kohli. But Kohli cannot be ranked above AB De Villiers and Kevin Petersen. Michael Clarke, Hashim Amla, Jaques Kallis and Kumar Sangakara have the same weakness Pujara has. But they have been demonstrating skills for years. Therefore the order is AB De Villiers, Kevin Petersen, Virat Kohli, Michael Clarke, Kumar Sangakara, Hashim Amla, Jaques Kallis and the Pujara. Pujara is 8th best in the world @ Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas_Atheist.

  • Sathyanarayan on December 27, 2013, 7:30 GMT

    When this team came to SA, the pundits and punters alike did not give them a chance. However so far in this test series, this young team lacking in experience has shown mental fortitude, attitude and also the gumption to stay at the wicket, play the ball by its merit, judge the balls that should be left and leave them and finally put a price on their wicket. You bet a Virendar Shewag can learn a few things about leaving the ball outside the off stump and also curb his natural instincts for the greater good of the team. This team needs to do these things in a fairly consistent manner. Then the cricket crazy and viewing public will embrace test cricket with open arms. The team's winning attitude and fighting spirit will rub off on the nation.

  • Varnendra on December 27, 2013, 7:30 GMT

    I think @jimbond has problems with his memory. 'finally he has performed'???? Has Dhawan, Rohit, Rahane, Pujara performed before Vijay? Pujara had no time to play his strokes when he was given chance here in the last tour. Only Kohli is clearly better than Vijay. @jimbond, that is a pathetic comment.

  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2013, 7:22 GMT

    Even Pujara struggled in his first SA tour if we remember. Virat scored century in his first overseas tour of Aussie after 4 innings failure. That time too everybody shouted to drop Virat. But thanks to Dhoni who stuck with Virat and since then everybody knows what Virat did. So why we are so impatient about our youngsters ? Give them time to settle. Definately it is not easy to adjust immediately for anybody from Kanpur to Johanesburg. Rohit and Shikhar scored more than 1000 ODI runs this year. And it's not against poor teams and only on Indian pitches. They scored in CT in England, Rohit was the highest scorer in WI Tri series, where every batsmen struggled. And then in India against Aussies. Though it's on Indian pitches, but against bowlers like Michel Johnson and Maccay. So be patient about our youngsters. Have faith enough on them. Like Virat, Pujara everybody will serve for Indian cricket for long time. All the best India !!!

  • GAURAV on December 27, 2013, 6:45 GMT

    I seriously don't know what is the problem with author. It seems that all cricket analyst have written so many articles declaring that Indian batsmen can't play fast bowling and our domestic cricket is so bad tha it will take net 20 years to replace fab 4 etc, that these cricket analysts can't digest the success of young men. Getting runs or getting out is the part of the game (as bowlers are there as well to compete) but Viay has shown that he is an honest trier. I bet no other opener in the world would have batted as well as he has against steyn and morkel in their own backyard and that too without having experience of these conditions. Well played Viay. Don't worry about critics, they want everything perfect, but the fact is nothing is perfect in the world, not even the critics.

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