“Vijay’s time is running out with India having quite a few talented openers in the domestic circuit”
Australia, 2014 is a special time in Murali Vijay’s Test career. In a rather gruesome Test series, Vijay was the unheralded hero of India’s batting line-up, facing more than 200 balls in four out of India’s eight innings’ there. If it was a composed 143 ball half-century at Adelaide that marked the beginning of a purple patch, it was followed by scores of 99, 143, 68 and 80. Without really being over the top, Vijay had fulfilled his role to perfection.
An opener’s job in tricky conditions where the ball moves around a lot early on is to ride the crest and weather the storm, to take the sheen off the ball. Vijay, with his astute judgement outside off-stump, technically perfect defence and authoritative drives was one of India’s few bright spots in away tours.
This was until that very tour of Australia in 2014. Since then, Vijay has managed a feeble average of 26.21 in 9 away Test matches with his once immaculate judgement becoming an area of concern. At Lord’s in the second Test against India, Vijay grabbed a pair to firmly underline the growing rumours regarding his place in the XI.
More than runs, it is the manner of his dismissals that stand out like a sore thumb. The Tamil Nadu opener’s forte was to bat time, build partnerships and make valuable runs at the top when the bowlers were thriving. Right now, at best, he is a walking wicket against swing and seam bowling.
Anderson undid him with two high-quality deliveries at Lord’s – the first time swinging the ball away from him rather late to uproot his stumps in the very first over and the second time catching him on the move with a sharp inswinger.
It could be argued that Vijay received two exceptional deliveries from a fired up Anderson under overcast skies. But the stats do not back him up. Since that Australian tour, even his home record has taken a beating. In 28 matches, he averages 38.77 and while seven hundreds have been scored five have come against poor bowling attacks and all seven have come on helpful surfaces in the sub-continent.
As the stats show, 2018 is turning out to be a huge drawback for the opening batsman. He hasn’t managed to breach the half-century mark in six Tests this year keeping aside a hundred against Test debutants Afghanistan.
In South Africa and England so far, Vijay has made 1, 13, 46, 9, 8, 25, 20, 6, 0 and 0. He has managed to bat out more than 100 balls just twice in these 10 innings’, even more worrying when you consider that India haven’t used a stable no.3 batsman in these Tests.
The string of low scores aside, a worrying aspect of Vijay’s batting this year is his tendency to go fishing outside his stump. Since 2011, he has averaged 34.51 in SENA nations (an average massively boosted by that 2014 series against Australia) but still falls behind the global average in these countries (35.39).
As a result of Vijay’s ill form, India’s opening partnerships have taken a hit. Since 2011, India’s openers have faced an average of 40 balls in SENA countries which is the second-worst by any of the top nine Test nations.
The lack of solid opening partnerships have in turn resulted in the vulnerable no.3 and a shaky middle-order being exposed early. Virat Kohli’s insane batting has somewhat salvaged the rut but the lack of a strong platform has hurt India’s chances.
Vijay’s time is running out with India having quite a few talented openers in the domestic circuit. The likes of Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and Shreyas Iyer are making runs like never before and with Rahul and Dhawan – neither that very convincing – in the squad, Vijay might be playing for his place in the side if at all he is persisted with for Nottingham. Going by recent evidence, though, the chances of him making the starting XI appear slim.