Even as the opening combination remains a massive worry for India, what with Shikhar Dhawan registering his third failure in a row, his partner Murali Vijay has been going from strength to strength. On the opening day of the Brisbane Test, with India already 0-1 down in the series, Vijay played a knock that can be defined as splendid considering the circumstances under which it was scored, and also the conditions that were on offer. The fact that Vijay became the first overseas opener to ever score a century at the Gabba is a clear indication of how tough it is for batsmen at the venue. During the first half of the innings, things were really tough for India as the Aussie pacers went all out, but Vijay displayed the temperament needed to survive the onslaught.
The knock signalled Vijay's third consecutive 50 plus score in the series, but the first that he turned into a century, and fifth overall in his Test career. Even though Vijay fell just an excruciating run short of registering a ton at Adelaide, it must be said that his effort at Brisbane was much better. While taking nothing away from Vijay's performance at Adelaide, there were times when he did not look in control out in the middle. A couple of close lbw shouts also went his way. Vijay had strokes of luck at Brisbane as well, but in terms of quality, the knock was top-notch. He held himself back during the tough periods, and went after the bowling once the Aussies got tired.
The Brisbane brilliance was the latest addition in Vijay's growing list of glorious crowns. He was among the few positives for India in the batting department in England, along with Ajinkya Rahane. His hundred in the series was instrumental in giving India some confidence, which they so desperately lacked. It was sad that he couldn't continue his form past the first two Tests. The poor show of the team might definitely have affected him. Prior to that, Vijay did reasonably well in South Africa as well. His success was a surprise of sorts, as he had failed in the previous series in New Zealand, and all his earlier big scores had been registered at home. Between New Zealand and Australia, Vijay has covered some serious distance as a Test player.
The most impressive aspect of Vijay's batting over the last few months has been his patience as well his temperament to play the long innings. For a Test opener, leaving balls is an indication of how good he is as a player. And, in this aspect, Vijay has clearly stood out. At Brisbane as well, he was prepared to leave as many balls as possible, wearing out the bowlers in the process. When Vijay was chosen as a temporary replacement as an opener back 2008, not many had massive hopes from him. But, Vijay has clearly outdone the expectations from him, in the process earning the respect of opponents and the cricketing fraternity as well.
If there is one area where Vijay needs to improve, it is his conversion rate. Having played close to 30 Tests now, Vijay has managed five Test hundreds. It is not a bad statistic at all, but when you consider he is an opener, better would be expected of him. He got two fifties at Adelaide, falling short of a hundred by one run in the second innings. There have been a few such half-centuries scattered, which could have been turned into hundreds. One cannot be too harsh on Vijay though. In a team that has been constantly underperforming, he has been like a glue that has held the batting together. Hopefully, there are many more Brisbane-like knocks to come from Vijay's blade.
--By A Cricket Analyst