If there is one player in the India ranks who will be even more determined than skipper Virat Kohli to atone for past failings in the West Indies, it will be opener Murali Vijay.
India’s lament for years since Sunil Gavaskar’s retirement that they didn’t have a durable opening batsman ended once Virender Sehwag struck it big. And the man who ensured Sehwag’s absence won’t be felt acutely is Murali Vijay.
Five years ago, Vijay suffered a hand injury batting on a dubious Sabina Park net pitch ahead of the first Test on the 2011 tour. A hairline fracture and resultant anxiety trying to shore up his career saw him aggregate just 72 runs, averaging 12.
Selection in a depleted squad for that tour seemed a last chance for Vijay, but there were serious questions about his future at the end of it. He had played 12 Tests in three years, scored 609 runs in 20 completed innings, the 30 runs per outing a rather average performance.
However, recalled for the home series against Australia in 2013, Vijay returned a transformed player. His overall fitness, focus, a drastic change in temperament and shot selection meant that he rapidly moved up the ladder in a team undergoing batting transformation.
Since then, the numbers have spoken for themselves, although they don’t entirely explain the solidity he provides to the batting line-up with Ajinkya Rahane, as skipper Virat Kohli leads the way.
Vijay, Part I & 2
Years Tests Inns Runs HS Avg 100s
2008-11 12 20 609 139 30 1
2013-16 25 45 2021 167 45.93 5
Since his comeback three years ago, Vijay has been consistent in every series except the last one India played, against South Africa on underprepared home pitches.
Vijay, 32, who spoke about his determination to atone for the poor 2011 tour, has played the anchoring role. In the 2013 Australia series at home, his 167 and 153 in Hyderabad and Mohali helped put India 3-0 ahead before they completed a whitewash.
In the 2014 England tour, Vijay was one of the batting bright spots before the visitors subsided. His 146 in the first Test at Trent Bridge helped India draw and he contributed 95 in the second Test at Lord’s where Ishant Sharma bowled India to a great win.
As Kohli made up for his failures in England in the first Test at Adelaide in late 2014, with India set 364 to chase in the fourth innings, it was Vijay’s 185-run stand with the stand-in skipper that raised hopes of an unlikely win. Had Vijay not succumbed to nerves on 99, India may have achieved a glorious win.
He followed it up with a 144 in Brisbane, and although India lost the series 0-2, Vijay’s rock-steady batting gave the balance to a side looking to force the pace.
Even in Sri Lanka last year, where India ended a 23-year wait for a series win (2-1), his batting was crucial, especially when India were setting a target in the second Test, before a hamstring injury ruled him out of the decider.
The consistency Rahane, 28, has brought to the middle-order too has been vital in India bouncing back after the retirement of a golden generation of batsmen. His technique and ability to play the pull and cut has made him an asset in the line-up.
The India vice-captain has had an amazing run in the last two years. He failed on his debut in 2013 against Australia in Delhi, missed out on centuries in his second series in South Africa (best 96) and in last year’s one-off Test in Bangladesh (98).
But Rahane has scored a century in each of the other five series he has played, in New Zealand (118), England (103), Australia (147) and Sri Lanka (126). It was no less challenging when he signed off 2015 with centuries in both innings of the final Test against South Africa at the Feroz Shah Kotla (127 & 100*).
West Indies are no longer the old force in Tests, but that will also bring pressure on India to win.
And India will bank on the consistency of Vijay and Rahane.