'If you play your game, you are fearless' - Vijay
"Ride the wave and don't fall." It's a new trick M Vijay has learned of late. He's talking about his new hobby - surfing - but the same stance could be applied to his cricket too, especially since he has been picked for India's limited-overs tour of Zimbabwe.
On Monday afternoon, Vijay was en route to training in Chennai when the selection was made public. It marked a comeback of sorts for the batsman, who had been dropped from the ODI squad after the summer of 2013. Vijay, though, told ESPNcricinfo he was not surprised by the call-up.
How big is this selection for you?
It is a happy feeling to make a comeback to ODIs. I have been batting well in Tests, so I just have to grab the opportunity that has come my way. As a player I was expecting the call-up. I was the third opener for four series, including the 2013 Champions Trophy, but could not get a game.
So this Zimbabwe series is a good opportunity to cement the role as the third opener?
I have always believed in myself. It is not about competing with anybody. I always compete with myself and I look to improve as far as I can. It is not that I am going to play as a third opener and be happy. I will never be happy. I have always wanted to be the leading batsman for Indian cricket.
Is there an element of doubt, considering you have not played ODIs since the 2013 summer?
Never. I have been working on my game, on my basics. I have been waiting for the opportunity without rushing myself. Before, when I got the opportunities, they were stop-start. Now that I have got another opportunity, I just am happy and excited to go and express myself on the field.
In terms of numbers, you don't have a half-century in ODIs. Does that matter considering the form you are in at the moment?
I am not a guy who will give excuses, but you have got to consider the number of matches I have played on the trot. That matters a lot as a batsman. It is not an excuse. I never got a string of ODIs or series. I had to adapt to that in the past.
Recently, you said you have had to curb your instincts in Test cricket. But now in ODIs, you might be able to play with more freedom...
See, I am expressing myself. Considering the format of the game (Tests), all I said was that I was curbing my instincts in order to be more consistent rather than proving a point to the opponent. I never meant I did not play my game. I still play my game. I had a game plan and I did not drift away from it. I just played according to the situation in the Tests and so far, it has come out well for both the team and me personally. If I get an opportunity to go and hit from ball one, I would do it if I were in that zone. It is not that I'm curbing my instincts. But you have to consider the situation and play accordingly.
From the success that you have enjoyed in the last two years, what are the things that will help you in ODI cricket?
The mental discipline. The game is not going to change that much. It is just the way I apply myself in different formats and according to the situation, I have to up the ante. With the new playing conditions from this series, I will have to adapt according to the ground situation, the opposition game plan, and accordingly cash in.
One advantage you can take from your Test game is you can see off the new ball with more confidence ...
I never see myself as seeing off a new ball. I always have the intent to play the ball. If the ball is not to be played, I leave it. It is not that I go in to bat with the intention that I have to leave these many balls. It is just that I want to play little more compact to have the upper hand against the bowler. That is my thinking. There are two ways to look at it: either you go aggressive or you go defensive. But all I want to do is give myself more confidence by countering an attack in a good spell in a proper way, and then I can cash in. So I am always thinking of attacking in my mind.
One of your coaches recommends it would be helpful if you could express yourself in ODIs fearlessly?
As a batsman, I definitely look to do it every time I walk in to bat. All I want to do each time I bat is help my team win the match by making useful contributions depending on the scenario. If you play your game, you are fearless. That is a better way to put it than saying - play fearlessly. It is about the freedom and to get that freedom, you have to cement your spot. It is not that I have not done well before. In the past, I got thirties, but they hurt me and were responsible for my exit from ODIs.
How would you describe your performance this IPL?
It was bad.
You were a top-10 batsman when Chennai Super Kings won the IPL in 2010 and 2011. You also have a couple of centuries in the IPL. What is that you have learned in Twenty20 cricket that can help your batting in ODIs?
It is an entirely different format. A lot of batsmen are opening up a little earlier because of the confidence they have got playing in the Twenty20 format. But 50-over cricket is a very tricky game. Especially under pressure, sometimes you have to consolidate, sometimes you have to be aggressive, and it also depends on whether you are setting or chasing a target.
Some people are surprised the selectors have picked a senior player like you who is 31 years old. Are they really looking to the future?
All I have got to say is if my fitness is not that good and I am not moving like a youngster then I can understand their point. But if that was the case then Huss [Michael Hussey] should not have played till 39 and he won the match for CSK in the IPL semi-finals [play-off]. I like to look at such examples that inspire me. Everybody is going to get old, but how fit you are and how consistent you are matter more to me.
You must know what the challenge now is for you in one-day cricket?
For me the challenge is if I get a start, I obviously want to make it big. It is not that I have been a flop in ODIs. I just did not convert those starts into big hundreds. That was hurting me more. In fact, the same was the case in Test cricket when I got a lot of thirties initially. It takes time for you to understand it. I am in the right phase at the moment. I am not looking back and saying it was a very bad experience. No. Because that gave me a lot of learning across all the formats of the game.
What have you been doing after returning from Bangladesh other than training?
I have found a new love for surfing. I have had a good time doing that because it is fun. I have learned a few more tricks.
What are the new tricks?
Ride the wave and don't fall.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo