HE was easily the most restless Indian at the net sessions before the opening Test. Today, he was the most assured.
In the days preceding the Trent Bridge match, opener Murali Vijay would have long chats with batting consultant Rahul Dravid, look worried, turn pensive and have long batting sessions. Finally, he would go indoors to join his team mates in the dressing room, only to emerge a while later to face a few throw downs. On the match day, he seemed at peace with himself but he did keep emerging from the dressing room to help India recover from early setbacks in each session of the day.
Had it not been for his 122 and the day-long stay at crease, India wouldn’t have recovered from Shikhar Dhawan’s dismissal in the 7th over of the day, the twin body blows of losing Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli within three overs after lunch and the post-tea setback of Ajinkya Rahane’s bizarre departure on the sixth ball of the final session.
Besides fashioning recoveries and taking India to creditable 259/4, Vijay did a few more things. He justified Dhoni’s decision to bat, gave India a swagger on the first day of the series and, at an individual level, the one-time compulsive stroke-maker showed he had the all-important virtue of a true-blue Test opener — he could resist temptations.
Four years after making his first T20 hundred, Vijay scored his first ‘away’ ton. The metamorphosis has been slow, but his growth into a longer-version mainstay hasn’t been stagnant. Late last year, during the South Africa Test series, he showed he could leave deliveries and play late. In the next series in New Zealand he didn’t do well but when the Super Kings let the Daredevils buy him, you saw hope.
His IPL season 7 failure gave the first hint that the Test opener was about to break out. While with the Daredevils he wasn’t consistent with his trademark T20 shots — the dancing-down-the-track slog to cow’s corner and the extravagant screaming cover drive. The habit of being circumspect and watchful while wearing whites was getting difficult to kick.
It wouldn’t be fair to undermine Vijay’s knock by calling the pitch easy as there were other challenges. England captain Alastair Cook was setting innovative traps and throwing fresh baits to get wickets. Vijay would, invariably, see through the trick and call the bluff.
James Anderson and Stuart Broad would bowl a teasing line outside off and place a slip, cover and short-cover with no back up on the boundary line. They would change their length to induce false shots. They would want Vijay to come on front foot and drive.
Vijay didn’t. Only when he was on the back foot and had his eyes monitoring the stroke closely, did he play to cover. Kohli wasn’t that sure about the line, length or the stroke to play and he edged Broad to slips. Anderson would have a silly mid-on and bowl on the legs hoping the batsmen will play in the air. Pujara did, but Vijay didn’t. Liam Plunkett would bowl short, stick to a leg-stump line.
Cook would have a leg-gully, short-leg, square-leg and, even a silly point, to wait for a miscued horizontal-bat shot. Rahane fell for the trap, Vijay, once again, didn’t. Later in the day, he would be joined by his skipper, MS Dhoni, who would end the day with a half-century. Vijay and Dhoni would walk back undefeated at stumps with the satisfaction of surviving the minefields set by the rivals. Not many have done this. The last Indian to play out the opening day of a series in England was Ravi Shastri in 1990. Resisting temptations all day isn’t easy.
India: 1st innings: 259 for 4 in 90 ovs vs England (M. Vijay 122 n.o, S. Dhawan 12, C. Pujara 38, V. Kohli 1, A. Rahane 32, M. S. Dhoni 50 n.o.; J.Anderson 2/70, S. Broad 1/26, L.Plunkett 1/56).