When India toured Sri Lanka three months back, Murli Vijay was the first-choice Test opener, despite having a dip in form in the last home season, where he scored 771 runs in 12 Tests at 36.71. Unfortunately, just before the Galle Test, his long-term wrist injury resurfaced and the Chennai boy was ruled out of the series. Two days before the game, the other opener KL Rahul had a fever and Shikhar Dhawan was flown in from Hong Kong, where he was holidaying.
The Southpaw ended up opening with Abhinav Mukund in that Test and grabbed the opportunity with both hands, scoring a fluent 190 in his comeback innings. He, in fact, featured in all three matches of the series and scored another hundred in the final Test at Pallekele. Whereas Rahul came into the eleven from the second Test replacing Mukund and had two half-centuries in two innings.
Thereon, commenced the musical chair, amongst Vijay, Rahul and Dhawan; surrounding the two opening slots.
Overseas, the new ball has always been India’s nemesis. On those pacer friendly conditions, you need a solid beginning in order to keep the opposition at bay. In 42 innings Vijay has played away from home, he averages 36.85, which from a point of view of an opener, is quite satisfactory. In India’s last non-subcontinental touring cycle (Tours of South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia) he was the only Indian batsman after Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane to have an average over 40.
As a batsman, Vijay has always been a hugely gifted cricketer when it comes to time a cricket ball. He is also aware of his off-stump, which allows him to leave balls comfortably, especially early in the innings. The right-hander plays the ball late and close to his body. These are the qualities which makes him a great pick for overseas conditions.
However, before scoring 128 — his 10th hundred in this format — in his comeback innings at the Nagpur Test on Saturday, Vijay had fallen behind in this race for being India’s first-choice opener for the upcoming tour of South Africa, thanks to Dhawan’s resurgence in Sri Lanka and Rahul’s consistent show (Nine half-centuries in his last 12 Test innings). In Kolkata, despite being fully fit, Vijay was not considered for selection, probably for the first time since establishing himself as an opener in the Indian team. In Nagpur, Vijay got a chance only because Dhawan opted out of the game for personal reasons.
I would pay money to watch a Murali Vijay cover drive. Heck I will pay money to watch him leave an outswinger. #IndvSL
— cricBC (@cricBC) November 25, 2017
So, how does an experienced cricketer like Vijay, who has been with the team since 2008, deals with such a scenario, when he has to prove his worth all over again, under this newly developed challenging environment?
“I feel as a professional you should always be ready whether you get a chance or not. You should be ready from inside eying to get a chance. So, whenever you get a chance you are not lacking in that aspect. You can be fully aware of what’s happening and what’s going to happen. It is difficult and I am used to it by now. I just wanted to contribute whenever I get an opportunity to play for India,” he dealt with the question quite professionally in the post-day press conference just after scoring that nearly flawless comeback ton.
In fact, Vijay believes, having more options for the opening slot is good for the team. It creates a healthy competition amongst the players.
“Playing for India is difficult and whoever gets a chance, I wish them luck. I know how difficult it is to be in that space and perform, whoever gets a chance should perform. That’s all I can pass onto them.”
Vijay’s comeback hundred gives India a happy headache. Acutally, it shouldn’t be a headache at all: he should open in Cape Town
— Sambit Bal (@sambitbal) November 25, 2017
In the next Test match in Delhi, which will be India final red-ball assignment before boarding the flight for South Africa, all three openers will be available for selection and the situation is going to be quite tricky. Ideally, in that game, the think-tank would like to play the combination which will be the first-choice option for the first Test in South Africa.
Considering the fact that for the next 18 months, India will mostly be playing overseas Tests, it is now up to Kohli and Co. to decide whether they want only want the flamboyance of Dhawan and Rahul or some solidity from Vijay on those testing conditions.
Following Vijay’s knock in Nagpur, this opening conundrum gets further complicated.