Door closing on Murali Vijay's Test career after Prithvi Shaw's India selection

Ashish Peter 24/08/2018
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The end of the road seems near for Murali Vijay.

As Prithvi Shaw was handed his maiden Test call up for India, the career of senior opening batsman Murali Vijay reached a crossroads.

Dropped unceremoniously from the playing XI in the third Test against England at Trent Bridge, Vijay was dealt another blow when he was axed from the squad for the final two Tests.

It has been a tumultuous few weeks for the opener who arrived on English shores as the most established of the three opening batsmen in the Indian squad.

Now, he leaves the country having seen Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul move up the pecking order with young Shaw knocking on the door.

Times have changed dramatically for the 34-year-old who was India’s top-scorer the last time they played a Test in Trent Bridge. On that occasion in 2014, the right-handed batsman had starred with innings of 146 and 52 in a drawn match.

England wasn’t kind to the Tamil Nadu batsman this time around with scores of 20 and six at Birmingham being followed by a pair at Lord’s.

What makes Vijay’s failures in English conditions difficult to digest is that he is one of the few top-order batsmen whose game is suited for challenging conditions outside Asia.

His innings of 97 at Durban in 2013, his ton at Trent Bridge and a 99 at Adelaide in 2014 had cemented his status as one of India’s better overseas batsmen. But of late, runs outside India have dried up.

That he has been axed from the squad after registering four Test tons in 2017 might seem harsh but his performances away from India have been declining for some time now.

Vijay has been at sea against the moving ball in England this time.

Vijay has been at sea against the moving ball in England this time.

Vijay’s last half-century away from home came all the way back in August, 2015 during India’s tour of Sri Lanka. Since then, India have toured the West Indies and South Africa before arriving for their current engagements in England. It was in the tour of South Africa that Vijay’s problems became acute.

His ability to leave well outside the off-stump had been his biggest strength on previous tours. But, against the Proteas, that assurance was missing as Vijay succumbed to one low score after another. His innings of 25 off 127 balls in Johannesburg was his only solid innings in the entire tour and that diffidence was evident in the two Tests he played against England.

The opener still remains a force in home conditions as his century in the one-off Test against Afghanistan this year showed. But with Dhawan and Rahul being the more aggressive batsmen, it is unlikely that Virat Kohli and the team management will turn to Vijay.

Vijay bagged a pair in the Lord's Test.

Vijay bagged a pair in the Lord’s Test.

At 34 years of age, time is not Vijay’s friend. India’s next major overseas assignment is against Australia at the end of the year. The last time India toured Australia in 2014-15, Vijay slammed one ton and four half-centuries. This time, chances are he will not even be on the plane unless Dhawan and Rahul fail miserably in the remaining two Tests against the hosts.

Few Indian players have managed to force their way back into the Test side so late in their career. Sourav Ganguly’s return to the side in 2006 following his public run-in with Greg Chappell in the previous year springs to mind but the former India skipper had a lot more going for him than Vijay does currently.

Cheteshwar Pujara also struggled during the tours of South Africa and England but his innings of 72 at Trent Bridge has secured his spot for some time.

Perhaps it is Shaw’s emergence along with Vijay’s age that has convinced Kohli and the selectors to cut the senior opener adrift. For now, it looks like the end of the road for Vijay. It’s up to him to fight his way back.

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Virat Kohli's relentless drive to be the best setting him apart from the rest

Ashish Peter 21/08/2018
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Virat Kohli continues to touch new heights.

Virat Kohli conquers new frontiers with almost every passing series, but his performances in England finally bear testament to his true greatness.

The India skipper notched up his second Test ton of the series and 23rd overall on day three at Trent Bridge as he put his side in a commanding position.

The 29-year-old has well and truly banished his demons from the 2014 tour of the country where he mustered only 134 runs in 10 innings.

After his latest display at Trent Bridge, he now has 440 runs in six innings in the series at an average over 73. For reference, the second highest run-scorer in the series is England’s Jonny Bairstow with 206 runs while the next best Indian batsman is Hardik Pandya with 160 runs.

After the completion of the Trent Bridge Test, the India man is poised to once again overtake Australia’s Steve Smith and take the top spot in the ICC rankings for batsmen.

21 08 Kohli

Following India’s 2014 tour of England, question marks remained over Kohli’s Test credentials even though the world had started to accept his greatness in the limited-overs formats.

Since that series though, there has been a sea of change in Kohli’s approach in the five-day format. When the 2014 series ended, Kohli had six Test tons to his name from 29 matches. In comparison, Joe Root had five tons to his name from 22 matches at the same point.

Now, four years later, Kohli has notched up another 17 centuries in the 40 matches to follow. Root, meanwhile, has only been able to add eight more tons to his name in the 50 matches he has played since.

In this period, Kohli was the second highest run-getter behind Smith in India’s 2014-15 tour of Australia with 692 runs, the highest scorer in the side’s 2018 tour of South Africa with 292 runs and is on course to finish as the highest run-getter in England.

It is Kohli’s relentless drive to be the very best that has set him apart from the rest of the pack. Always seeking for ways to constantly improve himself and push new barriers, the batsman has left no stone unturned in his quest for greatness.

It all started with Kohli’s disappointing campaign for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the 2012 IPL. Bogged down by his own poor performance, the Delhi-born man drastically changed his training regime in order to become fitter.

“My training was horrible, I ate so bad, I was up until late, I was having a drink or two regularly. It was a horrible mindset. The season ended and I was so thankful it was over. I went home, came out of the shower one day and looked at myself in the mirror and said, you can’t look like this if you want to be a professional cricketer,” Kohli had told Telegraph India.

Kohli follows the most rigorous of fitness regimes.

Kohli follows the most rigorous of fitness regimes.

Now, he is undoubtedly one of the fittest cricketers in the world and a supreme athlete.

In the 2014 series in England, his susceptibility around the off-stump was horribly exposed by James Anderson. That he looks much more assured in that area in the current series is another example of his willingness to constantly improve.

When he returned from England in 2014, Kohli conducted a one-on-one nets session with his idol Sachin Tendulkar in Mumbai in order to identify his flaws. He changed his batting stance and has reaped the rewards in the overseas tours to follow.

There is nothing more gratifying as a fan than to see a sportsman with extreme dedication to his craft reap the fruits of his labour. That is exactly what Kohli is doing currently and we are indeed privileged to watch him as he continues his march to greatness.

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Hardik Pandya is no Kapil Dev but he can become the all-rounder India needs with time

Ashish Peter 21/08/2018
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Pandya is growing into his all-rounder's role for India.

Ever since the great Kapil Dev hung up his boots in 1994, India has been attempting to fill the void left by the prolific seaming all-rounder to no avail.

Over the years, attempts have been made to shoehorn the likes of Irfan Pathan, Sanjay Bangar and even Ajit Agarkar and Stuart Binny into the role but none of them have been able to give India the balance Kapil Dev provided.

Hence, ever since Hardik Pandya burst onto the international-stage after some exhilarating displays with both bat and ball in the IPL for Mumbai Indians, the comparisons with Dev have been rift and unending.

While his initial exploits came in limited-overs cricket, the 24-year-old’s ability to clear the boundary ropes with ease, athleticism on the field and the ability to bowl regularly above 140kmph has seen him being fast-tracked into the Test team as well.

In the two years or so since he made his India debut, the all-rounder has managed to divide opinions sharply and has earned his fair share of critics.

Of late, those criticisms have been growing with the most scathing of them coming from West Indies great Michael Holding.

“I heard a mention, when I was working in South Africa: ‘he is the next Kapil Dev’. I ain’t going to tell anybody he’s not going to be the next Kapil Dev, but he is nowhere near there yet,” Holding told ESPNCricinfo.

While his abilities with the bat have never really been in question, it is Pandya’s bowling which has let him down at times. He came into the third Test between England and India at Trent Bridge with a bowling average of nearly 40 which is nothing to shout home about.

Pandya has shot back at this critics after his Trent Bridge display.

Pandya has shot back at this critics after his Trent Bridge display.

In the first Test at Edgbaston, Pandya was not even trusted to bowl a single over in England’s second innings. At Trent Bridge, he was only thrown the ball due to off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin having to leave the field with hip troubles.

What followed was one of the best spells of bowling by an India pacer in England. Within 29 balls, Pandya had picked up his maiden Test five-wicket haul as the hosts went on to lose 10 wickets in a session.

It wasn’t a lack of application from the batsmen that had gifted Pandya his five wickets, which included the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and Chris Woakes. It was accurate swing bowling at a decent clip that wrecked the English batting line-up.

Pandya had England's best batsmen in a tizzy.

Pandya had England’s best batsmen in a tizzy.

In that one innings, Pandya looked head and shoulders above India’s frontline pacers; Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma. What worked for him was the fact that he was able to get the ball to move sharply both ways at will.

At the end of day two at Trent Bridge, Pandya said: “I never wanted to be Kapil Dev. Let me be Hardik Pandya, I’m good at being Hardik Pandya. I’ve come so far — playing 40 ODIs and 10 Tests — being Hardik and not Kapil Dev.”

Never one to shy away from speaking his mind, the all-rounder does make a very valid point.

For long, India’s obsession with finding the next Dev has seen players like Pathan wilt under the pressure before their careers took a nosedive.

Players in the all-rounder’s role have been put under the microscope constantly and have subsequently been found wanting more often than not.

The Trent Bridge Test is only the 10th of Pandya’s young career so far and nine of them have come away from home. Only Afghanistan’s maiden Test in June this year came at home, while the others have come in Sri Lanka, South Africa and now England.

What Pandya has shown over the course of these 10 Tests is an ability to make a big impact on certain occasions. With the bat, his sole Test ton in Pallekele and his 95-ball 93 in Cape Town come to mind.

With the ball, he has been largely inconsistent but his performances at Lord’s and now Trent Bridge reflect a growing maturity and understanding of his role.

In 2018, Pandya is only behind Virat Kohli among Indian batsmen with the most Test runs (298). That statistic is more a damning indictment of the failure of India’s specialist batsmen, but it does show that Pandya has not been slacking in his task.

One only has to look at the world’s current premier seaming all-rounder in Ben Stokes to judge Pandya’s contribution to the side. The Englishman’s batting average after 44 Tests (33.97) is not too far off from Pandya’s (31.73).

In the bowling department, Stokes averages a decent 33.57. After Pandya’s first inning heroics at Trent Bridge, his bowling average has climbed down all the way to 28.06.

It is true that Stokes has performed over a longer period of time with some memorable performances like his 198-ball 258 against South Africa at Cape Town along the way, but Pandya does have plenty of time on his side to morph into a more consistent all-rounder.

Pandya's numbers are not too dissimilar to Stokes'.

Pandya’s numbers are not too dissimilar to Stokes’.

Having grown up primarily on limited-overs cricket, Pandya has had to make the transition to red-ball cricket without any substantial first-class experience under his belt.

The all-rounder has only played 26 first-class matches in his career so far. By comparison, a 20-year-old Rishabh Pant who made his Test debut at Trent Bridge has already played 23.

Pandya has had to learn on the move in competitive Test matches and the signs are that he is getting better. What he has already proven is that he is a match-winner on his day who is capable of changing the complexion of the game in an instant.

He has his own strengths that he brings to the table and that is the reason Kohli and the team management have persisted with him despite the criticisms and inconsistencies.

As Pandya gains more experience, the consistency is bound to grow and India could yet have that all-rounder they so desperately desire.

For now, they should just let him be and wait for the finished product they envisage in the future.

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