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India's unsung hero: Murali Vijay

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Murali_Vijay_India_cricketHe fled from his home after failing his Class XII exams. He wanted to make a name for himself. He promised his parents that he wouldn't commit suicide and wanted to find out his ambition. He was in complete contrast to his family members who were bookworms. He initially worked at a snooker parlour, and ran a few other errands as well. Despite that, he fitted cricket into his busy schedule.

Having an opener who performs on a consistent basis is a boon to any skipper. Openers play a crucial role, especially in Test cricket. It is their start which gives confidence to the rest of the batsmen who follow. India needed a solid opener after the retirement of the flamboyant Virender Sehwag. Filling the Delhi opener’s shoes is a big ask, but India thus far has found an able replacement in Murali Vijay.

He gave his exams again and successfully passed, which earned him admission to Vivekananda College, which is famous for both its academics and bringing up cricketing talents. He credits his friends for his success and recalls the famous Chennai Test against Pakistan in 1999, which India lost by just 12 runs despite a brilliant 4th innings century from an injured Sachin Tendulkar. He vowed that he would play in Chepauk one day.

 

Though he wasn't selected for the state's Under 19 squad, Vijay excelled with the bat in the college tournaments. It sounds amazing, but the right-hander hadn't played with a leather ball till he was 17. His performances caught the eye of Bharat Arun, who asked him to play in the state's league. He waited for his chance patiently. He wasn't selected for the Tamil Nadu side due to his long hair, which left him in despair. But when he got the chance, he made it count.

He shared a massive 462-run partnership with Abhinav Mukund, which earned him a call-up as a cover for Gautam Gambhir who was banned for a match after an altercation with Shane Watson. He had a decent debut, scoring 74 runs in the match against Australia in 2008. His first century came against Australia in 2010, when he scored 139, stitching together a memorable 308-run partnership with Sachin Tendulkar for the third wicket.

Just like his state teammate, Ravichandran Ashwin, Murali Vijay too came into the spotlight after some impressive performances in the IPL. His mammoth 127 against Rajasthan Royals in 2010 was one of the best innings of the tournament. His ability to convert starts into big innings was pivotal in Chennai Super Kings' second IPL victory in 2011, where he smacked 95 runs against a hapless Royal Challengers' Bangalore attack.

After failing to show his mettle against West Indies in the Caribbean, he earned the selectors' trust and proved himself scoring back to back scores of 150 plus against his favourite opposition, Australia. A few matches later, he missed out on a well-deserved century against South Africa in Durban, when he was dismissed three runs short of the landmark. Innings like those go to show the mettle of the players.

 

India had a barren period, when they found victories hard to come by as they toured all over the world. One of the positives in this tough spell was Vijay's impeccable ability to score big. He scored a century against England in Nottingham. He scored a battling 95 in the third innings of the Lord's Test where India scripted a famous victory.

Fast forward a few months, Vijay found himself in the land of Kangaroos, and yet again showed his class by scoring a wonderful century in Brisbane. He ended up scoring a mammoth 852 runs in 10 matches in 2014 with a couple of centuries and a 99 to his name.

His ability to judge the ball on the corridor of the off-stump and leave accordingly is one of the major reasons for his success. For comparison, Virat Kohli succumbed to James Anderson’s line outside off on multiple occasions in the tour of England. That proved to be a telling factor for Vijay and his ability to judge it is essential for any opener as the new ball tends to move a lot.

The scores kept on coming. He scored a century against Bangladesh in Fatullah and played a key role in India's famous whitewash against South Africa in the twilight of 2015. He made his bat talk against England as well when the Barmy Army visited the country, scoring a couple of centuries.

At an average of 39.62 from 51 matches, having scored runs all around the globe, it is safe to say that Murali Vijay ranks at a high position among openers in the world. We talk about Ajinkya Rahane, who has impressed abroad. But here, we have a man who has consistently scored runs both abroad and in the sub-continent conditions. Murali Vijay is the kind of opener any skipper would ask for and Virat Kohli is lucky to have him in his side.

 

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