Opener M Vijay has made it clear that he did not go to play county cricket in Essex to make a comeback to India's Test team. After making 20, 0, 6, 0 and 0 in the first two Tests of India's five-match series in England, Vijay was not picked in the XI for the third Test and was later dropped from the squad for the last two games. MSK Prasad, the selection panel chairman, though, picked Vijay for the four-Test series in Australia, pointing to the rich form Vijay had hit at Essex.
After being dropped from the Test squad, Vijay signed up with Essex and played three matches in the County Championship, scoring 56, 100, 85, 80 and 2. Speaking to reporters during Tamil Nadu's first-round match last week in the Ranji Trophy, Vijay said he hadn't tinkered with his technique either.
"More importantly, I should keep faith in myself," Vijay said when asked if the team management's show of faith in taking him to Australia was a confidence booster. "I never went to county cricket to get back in the team. I just went to play some cricket, and I thought it was the ideal time for me to go and explore county. It happened that I could perform and give myself a chance."
In 2018, Vijay has had poor returns in Test cricket apart from hundred at home in Afghanistan's inaugural Test. In five matches elsewhere, three in South Africa and two in England, he made 128 runs without a single half-century. Despite the below-par returns, Vijay said there was nothing wrong with his technique, and it was more about finding the right balance mentally that allowed him to get the runs at Essex. "There wasn't any adjustment," he said. "It was a great experience because it wasn't easy. I should thank Essex for having me and giving me an opportunity to play the way I wanted to. We had a crucial three matches, and it really motivated me. I could step up and contribute, so I was happy to gain some experience there."
The Indian team management had belatedly agreed the absence of warm-up matches in South Africa and England was one of the factors behind losing both Test series. But for the Australia series, India will have some quality match practice. Along with several Test regulars, Vijay is part of the India A squad for their first four-day match against New Zealand A, which starts on November 16 at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui. Between that game and the first Test at the Adelaide Oval that starts on December 6, India will also have a four-day match in Sydney, as Ajinkya Rahane had revealed earlier this week.
Vijay, who scored 482 runs at an average of 60.25 on India's last tour of Australia in 2014-15, welcomed the move to get extra match-time before the Test series. "For me it's a mental game. It's never been a question of my ability. This time we have planned pretty well. We are going a little early and we are going to get a few practice games as well in Australia before we play the first Test match. That will be ideal for us. Hopefully our boys can gel as a team and put their best foot forward.
"Any international game is more of a mental game than about the attack or conditions. For me it is about keeping myself in a clear state of mind during practice and preparation. It's helping me out every game I play. It's just a matter of time where I can get a big one."
While acknowledging that conditions in New Zealand would be considerably different from those in Australia, Vijay emphasised that the India A game was more about getting some "match practice and get some runs and be in the best form I can be."
On the tactics to adopt in Australia, Vijay said that it was important to not let bowlers like Nathan Lyon find their rhythm. "You can't give bowlers the opportunity to settle down on their lengths. And especially a bowler of his calibre, you've got to be on top of the game all the time. Nathan Lyon and me had a good competition going, so I like to take up the challenge. Get some runs and put him on the back foot."