Murali Vijay’s Failure Puts India in Distress
A shift in approach that has not worked
Murali Vijay’s greatest strength, which made him one of the best Test openers in the world of cricket, lay in his ability to stop himself from driving deliveries that should be left alone and defensively nudging them away if they did not threaten to castle his off-stump.
This technique transformed into a huge strength away from home and even when the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli were struggling, Vijay’s stance and his adaptability stood out, earning praise from even Allan Border, who admitted that the Indian was a fine talent indeed.
“His defensive shots and his ability to not poke the off-stump unnecessarily makes him such an assured opener”, he had stated.
Border’s views were hardly doubted. Vijay averaged 40.02 in England and 60.25 in Australia. When the other players found it tough to manoeuvre the accurate length and lines of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, the Tamil Nadu player was impressing with his spotless footwork and his maturity in leaving the deliveries that should not be attacked. In 2014, in the six overseas matches that India played in 2014, he was out to a delivery that was pitched outside off just once, making him a player with an immaculate understanding of the game.
In England, the right-hander left almost 40% of the deliveries from the pacers in the first 15 overs in the ten innings. Overall, he left around 37% of the balls that he faced and his false shot percentage was a lowly 13.7%. In the last tour to South Africa in 2010, Vijay batted with a strike rate of 45.5% which drastically dropped to 40.44 in Trent Bridge. In his knock of 146, his first fifty came off in 68 balls but once the player understood that the opponents were trying to rile him up and were forcing him to drive outside the off-stump, he chose to play the patient game, defending deliveries and not giving in to rash shots. He reached his hundred in 214 deliveries and one could not help but notice his success against the very deliveries that led to Kohli’s failures.
What one witnessed in the recently concluded Test series against South Africa is that the same batsman who revelled in defending his off-stump was now falling victim to it repeatedly. In the first 15 overs off the pacers, he attacked almost 70% of the deliveries, increasing his false shot percentage to 21.6%, when compared to the tour of England in 2014. This resulted in an increase in the number of attacking shots that he played, which in turn led to dismissals in a similar manner throughout the series.
In Cape Town, in the first innings, he was out to driving a wide Vernon Philander delivery, which should not have been meddled with. This innings was the first time since 2013 that Vijay was out driving a delivery. Just when one thought that it was a one-off, the trend gained momentum and in almost every innings since, he fell in a similar manner.
In the second innings, he showed uneasiness and awkward movements across the stumps and finally fell to an edge off Philander. In the second Test match at Centurion, the 33-year old played 126 deliveries for 46 but fell cutting a Keshav Maharaj delivery, deceived by the bounce it had on offer.
In the second innings in the second Test, he eradicated all talks of gaining back his momentum by allowing a Kagiso Rabada delivery to bowl him. An outside-off delivery that kept low was immaturely handled by Vijay, who got an inside edge before the ball travelled to the stumps, taking off the bails.
In Johannesburg, in the first innings, Vijay fell while attempting a cover drive off a fuller delivery by Rabada. Earlier, Vijay would have left the delivery alone, but on this instance he meted it with no footwork and the poor shot that followed led to his downfall.
Suddenly, images of the Vijay that was four years ago and the Vijay of the tour painted a stark picture. With gruelling tours to England and Australia this year, the Indian management will be keeping fingers crossed for the maverick player to bury his flaws and emerge a stronger batsman.