If there is one thing that is extremely difficult to fathom in Indian cricket, it is the idiosyncrasies of the selectors at various levels. Can anyone imagine or accept that a ponytail sported by a cricketer could stand between a player and his selection into an under-22 side? Yes, it did a few years ago to one Murali Vijay and that experience has made him shy of even a lengthy wig. He copped this amazing decision and thankfully, he did certain things right (starting off with a normal hairdo) in the next couple of years to force his way into the Tamil Nadu Ranji side.
Of course, there was a streak of naiveté than indifference in him which did not endear him to many. However, the point is that he was to be gauged as a cricketer and on that score there was no doubt that he could wield a willow and excellently at that. He made big runs in the next couple of seasons without short changing his grace to merit a place in the Indian side. Though he made only a couple of 30s on his Test debut against Australia at Nagpur, he convinced everyone that he belonged at that level.
He followed his mini knocks up with a few substantial scores and just when he was thought off as a possible number three post Ganguly’s retirement, he became a victim of the intoxication that a successful IPL season and the aftermath of it provides. The mind and body, which were willing to grind it out for hours became lazy and impatience became the leading component of his batting. The decisive foot work was reduced to just half a step across the crease with one intent only- a slog across the line. His dismissals were brought about more by his mistakes rather than the guile of the bowlers. The failures quickly accumulated and his poor form was ruthlessly exploited by Steyn and Co making the selectors’ patience wear thin.
From being hailed as a solid test batsman for the future, Vijay had allowed his skills and temperament to evaporate from his make-up rather quickly. In as much as his elegance impressed one and all, his repeated poor shot selection eventually forced the selectors to give him the gate. He became a victim of his own desperation in the last couple of seasons which tends to be the case with some guys looking to make a comeback but the harder he tried the worse it got.
I had a chat with him during this year’s Buchi Babu tournament and it was evident that there were too many cobwebs in his mind. The one positive thing was that the willingness to make a comeback was very much there accompanied by uncertainty as well. At the end of a lengthy discussion I asked him a couple of questions to which he gave convincing answers. My question to him on the eve of his first class debut against Delhi in 2006 was “Are you ok”? His answer was equally short,” I am feeling comfortable”, but the conviction was unmistakable.
As we parted company that evening I could not help but feel that Vijay was going to make this season count. The big double hundred in the Irani trophy is an ideal way to start a critical season, but there is a lot more work left to be done before he either entertains thoughts of a comeback or puts the selectors under pressure. The key will be in not allowing the big double hundred to linger too long in his system. The reason I say this is because he has already paid a heavy price for letting the success of IPL and its methods stay in his memory longer than required.