The recent numbers of Murali Vijay are quite atrocious and he is not getting any younger. Time is surely running out for him, a commodity that he, in any case, does not really have in abundance at this stage of his career…..

At the end of Day 3, India find themselves more or less in the driver’s seat at Adelaide, 166 ahead with 7 wickets in hand, Cheteshwar Pujara looking good once again to bat on forever.

The way the ball has been gripping and turning, especially when Nathan Lyon has pitched on the boot-marks of Mitchell Stark, Ravichandran Ashwin will be looking on with considerable interest. If there is one lacking facet in that wonderful curriculum-vitae of the Indian spinning ace, it is the absence of a major performance on unhelpful surfaces such as one gets here, and this is perhaps one of the greatest opportunities he will ever have to bowl the side to win against a tentative batting line-up.

It is India’s game now, barring a collapse on the fourth morning. The prospects do indeed seem bright.

However, at the same time, there are things to worry about. The injury to Prithvi Shaw was tragic, a shattering blow to young dreams and romantic enthusiasm. And now, the seasoned Murali Vijay seems to have grasped at the chance to revive his career, only to hammer a decisive nail into the coffin of his cricketing days.

In spite of the position of strength India is enjoying at the moment, worries at the top of the order remain. KL Rahul did make heads turn in awe with his stroke-play in the second innings, including the four and six over point off Pat Cummins. But the atrocious manner in which he got out, getting an edge in trying to clout the Josh Hazlewood over mid-off,   will not alleviate the opening headaches of the team management.

Yet, it can be argued that audacious strokes constitute Rahul’s game plan and he has scored that scintillating 149 at The Oval not too long back. But, consistency is a facet that he needs to develop soon. This is his 32nd Test match, and already the rope handed to him is long enough to trip many remaining arguments in his favour.

Also Read: The Importance of Day 1

But, more worrying are the continued failures of Vijay. In not too many days the opening batsman will turn 35, not the ideal age to get into a prolonged slump. Because then people start wondering whether the salad days are over, and the career graph is permanently on a downward tilt.

Before he travelled to South Africa last year, Vijay had been established as a pillar at the top of the order. Two centuries in successive Tests against the Lankans had hauled his career average firmly into the 40s. With 3700 runs at 41.57 from 53 Tests, the numbers underlined both solidity and a sense of permanence.

However, things have gone downhill much too rapidly since then. On the difficult tracks of South Africa, he laboriously sweated to buy a run. He was well known for spending hours at the wicket, with a penchant for playing the patient game of leaving deliveries alone when not absolutely necessary. On those treacherous wickets, however, he spent plenty of scoreless hours looking like the proverbial fish out of the water. Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada had him on a rack, and it was often torture just to watch him struggle.

A breather was offered by the rookies of the cricket world. Against Afghanistan, he was determined to make it big at Bengaluru. A century resulted, which perhaps promised a lease of life.

But then he went to England. Vijay in Ole Blighty was yet another saga of struggle. He was completely flummoxed. In those seaming conditions, more than once he fell trying to replicate the South African tactics of leaving balls on the bounce. Four low scores later, which included a pair at Lord’s, he was dropped. And soon, in India, Prithvi Shaw emerged as the next superstar in the making.

As mentioned, the freak injury to Shaw did give Vijay yet another opportunity to cement his place in the side. After all, an Australian tour is always a demanding one and more experience in the line-up is always welcome.

However, Vijay’s two outings in this Test have once again been disastrous. Mitchell Starc got him in both the innings, for two low scores, playing away from the body, essaying eminently avoidable drives, providing edges for the delighted catchers behind the wicket.

While it had been argued that several of his dismissals in England came off quite unplayable deliveries, that excuse cannot fly here. It was simply careless batting, something warranted neither by the position of the team nor by his own insecure future in the side.

Since embarking on the South African tour, Vijay has scored 262 runs at 20.15 in 7 Tests. Take away the sojourn against Afghanistan, and it comes down to 157 runs at 13.08.

Time is surely running out for him, a commodity that he, in any case, does not really have in abundance at this stage of his career.

The current team management is not of the old school who used to claim that winning combinations should not be tampered with. There are options that can be tried out to replace him at the top, perhaps by pushing someone up from the middle order. Rohit Sharma, for example, can be used in the role of a makeshift opener.

It may also be that the inconsistency of Rahul will make the think-tank uneasy to tamper too much with the opening combination and Vijay will get another chance in Perth.

However, unless he finds out a way to get a few runs, the career of this long-serving stalwart seems to be hastening to a quick and inglorious end. It is not pleasant to watch him fade away like this.

 

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