The first one he launched, landed right on top of the charmingly archaic MCA-BKC pavilion. The second and third didn’t quite have the same altitude, and thundered off the sloping mini-grassbank that separates the dressing-rooms from the ground, sending those gathered there scurrying in all directions. Murali Vijay wasn’t done yet.
The first three strikes had come off the spinners — one a slog-sweep and the other two air-lifted with a delectable flow of the bat — and now it was the Tamil Nadu seamers’ opportunity to bowl at their high-profile teammate. But Vijay didn’t seem in a mood to relent. In fact, the first ball from Aswin Crist, a full delivery that landed right under his bat, was sent sailing over the bowler’s head.
Here was Vijay, that stoic right-hander who’s defiantly left alone more deliveries in Test cricket than any other batsman over the last 20 months, having his first serious net in over four weeks, having recently recovered from a hamstring strain. But intriguingly India’s most dependable Test batsman was indulging in some manic hitting, as if he was preparing for a T20 slug-fest.
When asked later about the uncharacteristic nature of his first outing in whites after a lengthy break, Vijay would admit that he had been itching to hear the sound of bat on ball ever since he returned home prematurely from the tour of Sri Lanka in August.
“I was focussing on playing a little more freely. It has been a long lay-off and I wanted to play my shots,” he would say. But as far as Indian cricket is concerned, it didn’t matter what Vijay was trying to do in his first sighting since Kumar Sangakkara’s farewell Test at the P’Sara Oval, except the fact that he was back. Come November, Virat Kohli’s young team will face their most stringent test yet as they face up against a mighty South African side, who haven’t lost on the road in almost a decade. And the 31-year-old Tamil Nadu opener will be the man, who will be responsible for blunting the menace of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander.
For now, however, Vijay insists on focusing on getting back into rhythm in Tamil Nadu’s next Ranji encounter, his first this season, against Mumbai at the BKC ground from Thursday onwards. Not that he hasn’t set his sights on Steyn & Co.
“I have not thought about it still because the ODIs are happening. I am keeping an eye on them. Obviously they are world-class bowlers and we have to play like a champion side,” he said.
Despite India’s historic series triumph in Sri Lanka, the impact that Vijay’s calming solidity has on the Test team was apparent, both in his absence and presence. He was direly missed at Galle when Kohli & Co collapsed meekly and fatally on the fourth morning of the first Test. And his fluent 82—an innings during which his sore hamstring hindered his movement greatly—and the partnership with Ajinkya Rahane went a long way in giving India the upper-hand in the second Test. But his outing at the P’Sara Oval also ended up exacerbating his injury woes.
“It was a difficult situation because I could not have come out, and thrown away the wicket at that point because we needed the lead. I can pat myself on the back but I could also have taken a little more gap and played the third Test. Always the ifs and buts come into play but it was a good experience for me but in the future I will take care of it in a better way,” he explained.
At BKC, Vijay is not solely focused on his batting but is equally keen on seeing how his body copes with four days of cricket under the sun. As a result, he doesn’t want to spend most of his time in his usual spot in the slips, but also spread out and field in positions where he will find himself in during the Tests.
“I am pretty excited to play this game because it has been a long gap. After Sri Lanka, I did not get any game at all. Playing four days will be give me a lot of confidence,” he said.