India’s Test series in Sri Lanka starting next week will mark the farewell of Kumar Sangakkara, the all-time great who redefined the notion of an all-rounder. Sangakkara’s wicketkeeping has been second to none in an era that also belonged to Australia’s Adam Gilchrist and India’s Mahendra Singh Dhoni, although his feats as a top-order batsman put him on a different plane.
For India opener Murali Vijay, the man nicknamed ‘Monk’ (after the name of a popular Indian rum brand) but whose batting maturity now more resembles high quality wine, it is Sangakkara’s versatility that makes him special, and someone he has always aspired to emulate.
Vijay, 31, will again be the pivot in a line-up of young batsmen who are settling down as a unit. Although the Chennai player has become the Test mainstay after years of frustration and few opportunities, ambition burns in him to find regular berths in the limited-overs sides, and unleash that pent up aggression.
After playing a meagre 12 Tests in three years between 2008 and 2011, Vijay shed a tendency to let aggression get the better of him, now relishing the cat-and-mouse game with the bowlers, and patiently building his innings.
Before arriving in Sri Lanka, skipper Virat Kohli spoke of how he would be inspired by Virender Sehwag, who on India’s last tour of the island in 2010 tore into Ajantha Mendis, stripping the young leg-spinner of all his mystery to score a majestic match-winning century. But India’s golden generation of batsmen has quit and Sehwag is no longer the old enforcer in the side.
Step in Vijay, the man with the similar predatory instincts, but now the anchor. His unwavering focus has lifted India abroad, and in that sense, it will be a role reversal, a new challenge returning after two years to play a full series in conditions closer to home — slow pitches and spinners.
He stood up to score centuries in the back-to-back England and Australia Test tours in the last season, after missing out on a ton in South Africa by three runs. His consistency and assurance overseas has been rare for an India opener.
Vijay will be the go to man for skipper Kohli if he employs his five-bowler plan to play an aggressive brand of game, and push for victory.
On Tuesday, if Vijay felt the talk of competition and Kohli’s ‘problem of plenty’ quip about openers involved only two —Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul — he didn’t show it. Instead, he looked forward to leading the five batsmen.
The sense of occasion was evident. “The last time I played here, Muttiah Muralitharan was retiring. Now it is Sangakkara. I have always aspired to have his versatility,” he smiled.
But Vijay, having faced ups and downs in his career, knows it serves little to fret over anything, especially when it comes to analysing his game. “Just enjoy the game and give your best, keep it simple. I don't like to go too deep.”