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Life would have come a full circle for opener Murali Vijay on November 25. It was here at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium where the stylish opener made his debut for India eight years back in 2008.
Then 25, he opened with Virender Sehwag after Gautam Gambhir received a one-match ban for an altercation with Shane Watson in the previous Test. Scores of 33 and 41 against Australia in the fourth Test may not have given a clear picture of Vijay’s contribution, but his craft with the bat certainly impressed many. His stands of 98 and 116 with Sehwag against the best attack comprising the likes of Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson were an assurance that the future of India’s opening slot was in safe hands.
“It’s been good,” Vijay said, looking at the venue where he took his first step in international cricket. “This ground means a lot to me because I made my debut. It is a special feeling to come to this dressing room. It is always nice to come here.”
Indian openers Murali Vijay (right) and Shikhar Dhawan share a lighter moment during a practice session at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on Monday PTI
The 31-year-old has seen many ups and downs in his career in the eight years since his debut. He’s always invited criticism, be it for throwing away starts or being casual at times. The number of runs didn’t quite do justice to his talent.
Inconsistency was his bane. If he would notch up back-to-back 150-plus scores (167 in Hyderabad and 153 in Mohali against Australia in March 2013), he would get out cheaply in the subsequent matches. Vijay had to show that he belonged to the big stage after the selectors had lost faith in Sehwag and Gambhir.
“It is the way you take things,” Vijay said of constant criticism against him. “People are always going to talk, whether you perform or not. It is a very individual-oriented thing. Actually, I like being criticised because I can get good points out of it, I can work on it. At times it helps, so I don’t give too much thought about criticism or praise.”
The revival of Monk, which is his nickname, came about in the 2014 tour to England. There was more focus and hunger in his eyes. The runs were back, and so were the balls consumed. Following a 146 and 52 in a drawn Test in Nottingham, he came up with a match-winning 247-ball 95 that helped India win a historic Test at the Lord’s. In the subsequent tour of Australia, Vijay was the second-highest scorer to Virat Kohli.
His confidence since then has touched the sky. He’s turning out to be the best batsman of spin among his illustrious teammates on turning tracks in this series against South Africa. Vijay was instrumental in India’s win in the first Test on a difficult Mohali wicket, grinding out 75 and 47 when the others struggled.
“I am trying to play my best and put India in a good position,” said the opener on the secret of playing spin better than others. “So far, so good. It has been coming out well for me. I am in a good state of mind and that is more important for me at the moment.”
Assessing his performances over the last two years, which has been his career’s turning point, Vijay said: “I think it is too early to answer that question because I have a lot of seasons to go. I prepare my game for all the three formats of the game but at the moment I am fitting only into the Test team.
“For the past two years, I have been travelling around and I’ve got a good experience of how you have to organise yourself out in the middle. I’ve thus learnt a lot, and it is good as a team and as an individual for me.”
VIJAY IN NUMBERS