The Board of Control for Cricket in India

When the ‘Monk’ in Vijay came alive

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On day-one of the second Test against Australia, Murali Vijay achieved many feats.

He became the first non-Australian opening batsman to score a Test century at the Gabba in the first innings.

His 144 was the joint highest Test score at the venue by an Indian batsman, with Sourav Ganguly (2003).

It was mainly due to his knock that for the first time ever, India notched up over 300 runs on the opening day of a Test at the Gabba.

The list could go on.

But any amount of numbers would struggle to do justice to Vijay’s innings. He has spoken at length about the process of his
transformation as a Test batsman. His 332-minute long stay in the middle on Wednesday was the perfect testament of his words.

The pitch had every characteristic that the Gabba wicket has been known for over the years – generous carry, venomous pace and a fine coating of green. Australia had Mitchell Johnson and two young, fresh fast bowlers in Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood to exploit them. The barrage of short balls was a given. And the Brisbane heat was at its crescendo.

Vijay was aware of all the facts. But he overcame them so immaculately, it seemed like none of these things affected him. He was an epitome of concentration – something even his batting partner, Ajinkya Rahane admired.

In the first two sessions, he religiously left all the balls that he wasn’t forced to play. But he was alert enough to latch on to the one that he could put away.

“The ball wasn’t going on the off-stump. Everything was either going too far or coming straight,” Vijay said. “It is much easier to leave balls on a bouncy wicket than on a wicket like Adelaide. It was an entirely different experience.”

It was indeed different, for neither he nor any member of the current Indian team had ever played a Test here before. But Vijay had come in with a plan.

“It was really hot today. It was mentally challenging and draining. But I was in my zone,” he said.

“I wanted to stay in there as long as possible because I knew we are more familiar to these hot and humid conditions than they are. If I could stay in for a couple of sessions, I could tire the bowlers out.”

That’s exactly what he did. In the first two sessions, Vijay scored 73 runs off 157 balls. He played out three maiden overs just before the tea break. His first two balls off Hazlewood post-tea were a leg-glance and a slap over point for fours. It went on. His last 71 runs came off 60 balls, with 13 boundaries.

It was an awe-inspiring display of strokeplay but for Vijay, it was just successful execution of his plans. “It was a good knock and I am just happy that some of the shots I wanted to play came out correctly and went into gaps.”

Amid the flurry of shots, was an elegant square drive that raced to the fence. Rahane, at the other end, was elated. Vijay was in his trance, clueless that he had just reached his fifth Test century.

“Ajinkya and I were just setting small targets and I was focused on that more than anything,” he said. “I didn’t realize that I had reached my century until Ajinkya came and told me.

“In the last innings I knew I was on 99 and I got out. So, I guess this time it was good that I didn’t know and got the hundred,” he quipped.

When he walked into the press conference hall, sweat was still dripping down Vijay’s face and neck. He hails from Chennai – a city in southern India known for its soaring temperatures and sapping humidity. He is used to batting in hot conditions, but that doesn’t make him any more immune to the physical challenges of the weather than anyone else.

For Vijay, however, it doesn’t matter. Not when he is batting like he did today. “It’s not the cramps and physical discomfort that will cost you your wicket. If your mind is not focused in the present, then you will get out.”

Among friends, he fondly goes by the name, ‘Monk’. The first day of this Brisbane Test could well be remembered as the day in Vijay’s career when he made that sobriquet come alive.

“On that day,” they will say, “He really batted like a Monk.”