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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Murali Vijay breaks a barrier, India take series

Murali Vijay scores maiden ODI half-century to help India post 271; Bhuvneshwar then takes four wickets to set up a 62-run win.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Harare |
Updated: July 13, 2015 12:59:01 am
Murali Vijay, Murali Vijay India, India Murali Vijay, Vijay India Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe India, India vs Zimbabwe, India tour of Zimbabwe, Cricket News, Cricket Murali Vijay (72) and Ajinkya Rahane (63) added 112 runs for the first wicket on Sunday. (Source: AP)

An attempted slog through the covers went awry and the batsman, Murali Vijay, sighed. Had that mishit off Brian Vitori in the 17th over found any of the three fielders inside the circle on the off side, Vijay would’ve been dismissed for 25. Or, his eighth departure in the twenties in 15 innings.

And India, going by what occurred after his eventual dismissal, would’ve got a whole lot less than 271.

Half a decade has passed since Vijay first represented India in colour clothing. Never had he surpassed 33 runs in an ODI innings. Yes, he hadn’t played too many games; just 15 matches and 14 innings before today. But still. He did get past 20 runs, the definition of a start in any form of the game, on seven occasions. And each time, his start was stopped on or before 33.

Just to put that in perspective, after crossing the threshold of 20 runs in Test cricket, Vijay has been dismissed before 33 just five times. In 56 innings. But snatch away the whites from one of India’s most solid long-format batsmen in the past couple of years and the added colour seems to smudge both his form and stroke-play.

If you are under the impression that such numbers and statistics don’t matter, then you perhaps aren’t aware of the pressures of being an Indian cricketer. Because this is what unfolded soon after.

In the 21st over of the innings, leg spinner Graeme Cremer was introduced into the attack. Vijay, batting on 31, was on strike. Cremer dropped the warm-up ball short and outside off, turning further away. Vijay could’ve left it for a wide, but cashed in instead. He rocked back and pulled it towards the man stationed at deep midwicket.

On any other day and on any other score, the 31-year old would’ve walked his single and shadow-practiced his bygone shot at the non-striker’s end. He does that, without fail. But today, having gotten to 32 with the first run, Vijay hustled his captain and fellow opener Ajinkya Rahane for a second, whistling back to the other end while pumping his fist.

Cremer found his line with his second ball, on middle and turning towards off. Vijay simply dabbed it with the angle and walked his single. A walk that saw him look skyward and point his index finger in the same direction. The manual scoreboard at the Harare Sports Complex hadn’t been updated for the over and the LED screen almost never works. But Vijay didn’t need an external reminder. He counted his way to 34.

Pressure dissipates

Had he been dismissed at this point, the opener’s innings would’ve still been considered a disappointment. Another unfulfilled start. Another wasted attempt. But at this point, at 34, the pressure seemed to have lifted. And this lightness of his being reflected in his hands and strokeplay, en route to his first career ODI fifty.

“I have waited for this opportunity a long time, an opportunity to establish myself in the shorter formats,” Vijay said later, following India’s 62-run win. “I knew it was around the corner. It was about waiting for my turn. I’m not in a hurry.”

Hurry, though, Vijay sure seemed in following his first raise of the bat in short-format cricket.

Few sixes have seen less violence and more elegance in this day and age of the brute than Vijay’s maximums, fluid strokes that took him from the sixties to seventies. In the 30th over, he simply off-scooped Chamu Chibabha over long-off to bring up only the second six of his one-day career. Pleased with how it felt, he scooped Vitori in the following over — same shot, same place, same result.

There are few sights more beautiful than Vijay in flow. But there are few sights more frustrating than to watch a flowing Vijay throw it away. If it was the lack of confidence that nipped his starts in the bud in the past, it was the total opposite that denied him a much deserved big innings on Sunday.

In the 34th over, Zimbabwe re-introduced Neville Madziva into the attack. Madziva is a quick, nippy pacer with a contorted action who has a penchant for finding the blockhole. First ball, he pitched it up to Ambati Rayudu, the centurion from Friday, and the ball was dragged back on to his pads from a bottom edge, narrowly missing the stumps. Both the pace and the length made Rayudu stare at the pitch and blink.

Another yorker was attempted, but this time Rayudu was game. He stood a yard out of his crease and glided towards it, running the full-toss down to long on for a single. Vijay was on strike. But Rayudu grabbed his attention with a message of caution from a pitch-length away. He snapped his wrist twice, telling the batter to watch out for it. But Vijay was in what he claimed he wasn’t in. A tearing hurry.

So when Madviza attempted his third snappy yorker in a row, Vijay stuck out his front foot and coolly paddled the ball down substitute Malcolm Waller’s fumbling hands at deep square leg. Vijay was Madziva’s first wicket. The pacer would finished with a four-for and India would go from 203/2 to 271/8.

It was enough. And you know a target is enough when occasional spinner Vijay was given three overs and nearly finished with a wicket (Robin Uthappa missed a stumping off Sikandar Raza).

Vijay didn’t get a wicket but Bhuvneshwar Kumar sure did. He tormented the openers in his early spell, dismissing Hamilton Masakadza along the way. His absence in the middle-overs allowed Chibhabha to play a lone hand, but Kumar returned to end all hopes and clean up the tail. Chibhabha ended on 72, the same as Vijay. But, somehow, Vijay’s just meant that much more.

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