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By Suresh Menon
Murali Vijay making the highest score by an Indian in the IPL is not as much of a surprise as it is being made out to be. It is easier for a Test batsman to adapt to the lower forms of the game than it is for the reverse to happen.
But as the limited overs get more limited and traditional batsmanship is assumed to be at a disadvantage, Murali Vijay restores our faith in the technique and the temperament required to be a Test batsman. As Rahul Dravid showed in the previous IPL, it is easier for a well-rounded Test batsman to make the adjustments necessary for the Twenty20 format than it is for a hit-or-miss Twenty20 batsman to walk into a Test side. The number of stars of the current IPL who are resigned to playing only that format of the game seems to be increasing.
Australia’s David Warner and India’s Yusuf Pathan, already heroes of the current tournament are specialists in the shorter format. Murali Vijay has demonstrated that the Test batsman is a generalist, capable of using his orthodoxy as a platform for an occasional unorthodox shot, but equally capable of scoring consistently using traditional methods. Top flight Test batsmen can change their game when necessary, hold on for three or four hours to force a draw or make a half century in an hour to take the team to victory. The Twenty20 batsman is not expected to be this flexible, and so will remain a uni-dimensional player, a hero when the hitting comes off, a villain when it doesn’t.
As Sachin Tendulkar showed while making one-day cricket’s first double century, you don’t need to invent new strokes all the time, just get the existing ones to travel between players or above their heads. Murali Vijay may not have Tendulkar’s range of shots, but he has immense self-belief and the big match temperament that ensures a professional approach every time he goes out to bat. I have always liked the classic definition of the professional as one who does a good job even when he doesn’t feel like it. It is a lesson Dravid has taught us – that he might not enjoy Twenty20 but he will still be a leading batsman in that format too. This is a form of competitiveness that takes a sportsman to the top.
There was a similar surprise/lack of surprise when Ravi Shastri, a batsman who worshipped at the altar of orthodoxy became only the second man in history to hit six sixes in an over in a first class match. Till Shastri did that, most assumed that the feat could be achieved only by the big hitters.
The contours of a new Indian middle order are beginning to get distinct, and Murali Vijay’s entry into it seems pre-ordained, and not just in the lowest form of the game. Perhaps it was no bad thing that he made his IPL century after the Indian team for the Twenty20 World Cup was chosen. Batsmen like Murali Vijay ought to be preserved for the tougher, more challenging and ultimately deeply satisfying form of the game which is Test cricket.
That might sound patronizing, but there is more money, glamour, attraction to the Twenty20 game right now. Players are human after all and cannot be blamed if they choose the path of least resistance and most comfort. Murali Vijay has a bigger role to play in Indian cricket than the one promised by an IPL century. The young man seems to have the intelligence to recognize this. Hopefully, so do the selectors.