As India headed on the plane to South Africa, many were of the opinion that Murali Vijay might not be the right choice to open the innings along with Shikhar Dhawan. Our story on the batsman -- Why Murali Vijay cannot afford to fail in South Africa – also focused on how the Tamil Nadu batsman had tasted success only in home conditions and had a point to prove when he travelled away. In that sense, the South African tour was a big challenge for him, and his knock of 97 against the Proteas at Durban is significant in that aspect.
The biggest worry in relation to Vijay was whether he had the technique to stand up to the pacy South African bowlers in conditions that favour the latter side. Vijay still has a lot to prove, but his innings at Durban is a clear illustration that he possesses the talent as well as the maturity to deal with the conditions. Even though he was unlucky to have missed out on a hundred, he batted with great gusto for most part of the innings. Vijay left the ball very well, and put together a much-admirable performance.
When the Test series kicked off, most of the expectations were from the other opener Shikhar Dhawan, who came to South Africa with a big reputation he had built following some incredible knocks at home. But, while the left-hander has struggled to live up to expectations and has actually been unable to cope with the tough conditions, Vijay has shown some much-needed application in the first innings at Durban. This was crucial as India had won the toss and needed a player to come up with a big knock. Vijay fell short of the three-figure mark, but was the most impressive of all performers in India’s first innings.
The fact that Vijay occupied the crease for 309 minutes during his 226-ball stay at the crease clearly indicates the amount of patience he showed out in the middle. Even in the second innings of the Johannesburg Test, Vijay displayed the aptitude to occupy the crease when India needed to set South Africa a total to chase. He looked in little trouble as he held back his natural game and stayed put for 155 minutes. If there is one disappointing aspect in the two knocks, it is the common factor that he was dismissed playing down the leg side. Vijay must look to avoid such dismissals in which the bowler doesn’t have a big part to play.
Before Vijay went out to open the innings at Johannesburg, there were numerous worries as to how he would fare. Some even opined that it was better to have an out-of-form by experienced opener in either Virender Sehwag or Gautam Gambhir. The critics had every reason to express their reservations considering Vijay’s past performances away from home. And, while he is yet to completely establish himself in the Test squad, his 97 at Durban might well prove to be the career-changing knock he so desperately needed.
--By A Cricket Analyst