Murali Vijay’s Grit, Temperament a Crucial Factor for India in SA
The Indian Test team has been going through an opening conundrum in recent times. They have constantly shuffled the opening combination between three players –Murali Vijay, KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan – to find out which pair works best.
Vijay, who has been India's preferred opener for a long time, had found himself out of favour due to Dhawan's good run of form. By the time he came back into the team after a wrist surgery, Dhawan had sealed the opening role along with Rahul.
However, once Vijay returned in place of Dhawan, who took a break due to personal reasons, it was time for him to show his class once again. And he delighted everyone with a century in the second Test. After Dhawan returned for the third Test, Vijay retained his place as an opener, while Rahul was left out of the side.
Vijay backed the confidence shown by his captain and coach with another century in the third Test. Both innings in the series were special in itself, and were characterised by grit, patience, and a monk-like temperament.
He has once again established himself as India’s first choice opener, leaving the tussle for another opening slot between Dhawan and Rahul.
Opening is not an easy job for visiting batsmen in South Africa. It’s a nightmare for almost all visiting teams against a world class fast bowling attack. The greenish nature of the pitch, the new ball, and the raw pace of the Proteas bowlers make a deadly combination in the first couple of hours of the morning. And batsmen need to show tremendous resolve, grit, patience, and temperament to be successful as an opener in those conditions.
For Indian openers, the problem has remained unsolved ever since the birth of their rivalry. The average opening partnership for India in South Africa is 29.27, and it sums up their struggle to deal with the Proteas pace attack.
Wasim Jaffer is the only Indian batsman to have registered a Test century in South Africa, and he was temperamentally similar to Murali Vijay.
When the South African tour begins, India will rely heavily on a good opening platform. Dhawan and Rahul are still unsettled with their Test slots. Dhawan had scores of 13,15,19 and 21 the last time India toured South Africa in 2013. And Rahul is yet to be tested in these conditions.
Vijay has already proved his mettle in South African conditions with a score of 97 in the second Test of the 2013 tour. His technique and temperament is perfectly capable of dealing with the world class South African pace bowling attack.
Although, he averages 29.33 in three Tests played in South Africa, he has churned out good performances in Australia and England in pace friendly conditions. Averages of 60.25 and 40.20 in Australia and England, respectively, sum up his ability to deal with quality fast bowlers. So, it is only a matter of time until he takes his record to similar heights in South African conditions as well.
A stable opening partnership will give India a much needed upper-hand in the upcoming Test challenge. And Vijay will be at the helm of it. It will be his responsibility mainly to see off the opening spells and weather the storms unleashed by the South African pacers. The performance of the top and middle order will depend on how Vijay goes along.
It remains to be seen what there is in store. Can Vijay live up to the expectations? Or will the Proteas bowlers come out on top? Or rather, will it be even-stevens? Only time will tell.
(Prasenjit Dey is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @Prosen02. The opinions expressed are the author’s own, and The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)
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