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Thursday, 11 December 2014

The story of Murali Vijay: As a player and a person

Murali-Vijay-Australia-vs-India-1st-Test-Adelaide-2014

Every successful life has a turning point. A moment that hits you hard, leads to serious introspection and changes the course of your life, for the better. It rings equally true for a sporting career. In cricket, for a batsman, it could be one innings, one ball, one dismissal.

For Murali Vijay, that moment came on February 26, 2013. He walked in to bat at the Chepauk Stadium in Chennai with India chasing 50 runs to win the first Test against Australia. And he got out for six off 12 balls, lobbing a catch to mid-off trying to go for an expansive drive. (Also Read: 
Report: Australia vs India, 1st Test, Day 3, Adelaide)

It hurt Vijay. It hurt him that he didn’t knock off the runs with Virender Sehwag and finish the Test for India. It hurt him how he threw his wicket away. It hit him hard. And he decided to do something about it. (Also Read: The plan was to fight back: Cheteshwar Pujara)

He went back and rediscovered the solidity in his technique that had earned him a Test spot in first place. He put the flashy shots away, at least for the first few overs of his innings, and conditioned his mind for patience.

Until that day, Vijay averaged 28.40 in 13 Tests with one century. Since then, in 15 Tests, he has averaged 43.61 with three triple figure scores of 167, 153 and 146 – the last one coming in his first Test in England earlier this year. These don’t include the fighting 43 and 97 in South Africa and a match-winning 95 at Lord’s.

His first Test innings in Australia, an 88-ball 53 at Adelaide, was very characteristic of Vijay 2.0, until Mitchell Johnson ruffled him up with two short balls before inducing a nick.

In a conversation with 
BCCI.TV, Vijay gave us an honest assessment of his career so far. He opened up about what went wrong at times and how he is constantly working on getting better, as a player and a person. 

You looked very good out there. You saw off the new ball cautiously and were playing Lyon beautifully. Disappointed not to get a big one?

I started off really well and I was set to get a big one. But two overs before lunch there was a lapse in concentration. That’s one thing I have to work on. Hopefully this start will help us a team and me individually to move forward in a positive way.

How did you prepare for the extra bounce that the pitches here and the fast bowlers generate?

I think more than technical it is about being mentally prepared. We all really want to do well abroad. We have done it well in patches in the last year or so but haven’t been able to do it consistently enough to win the series. So, before coming here and leading up to the series not only me but everyone in the team worked on our mindset to be able to handle the bounce and cope with the conditions.

Could you describe your dismissal? Did the two short balls affect your footwork when he pitched it fuller?

It didn’t affect my footwork as such. I was consciously looking to play out till lunch and went into a defensive mindset. That’s one thing I have to be careful about in the future. I should have continued to play the way I was playing rather than getting into that mode.

Keeping your Test career so far in mind, how satisfying has scoring runs in England been?

It was a real big deal for me to go to England and do well because I was a little upset when I missed out the last time. Playing Test cricket in England and here in Australia is in itself a special feeling and scoring runs for the team adds so much more to the whole experience.

You have obviously worked on your patience in the last few months. How difficult was it initially for you to grit it out and resist the temptation of big shots?

What I’ve learned in the last eight-nine months is that you cannot always play by instincts. I’ve realized that as an opening batsman, I cannot say, ‘Okay, this is how I know how to play and I will stick to it’. It might work for someone but for me it doesn’t. 

I’ve just got to curb my instincts and be prepared to play out of my character. I learned that lesson in South Africa and then did well in New Zealand. I put all that experience in use when we went to England. We went their early and I had the time to figure out what would work for me in these conditions. The century (146) at Trent Bridge strengthened my confidence a great deal. It told me that I can play out of character and score runs for the team. It is especially satisfying to successfully do something that doesn’t come naturally to you. 

Was getting starts and giving it away a major problem you had to address?

It was. In the last two Tests at home against West Indies, I scored stroke-filled 20s and 40s. When I am in that zone, I can hit any ball, but I somehow got out. When you throw your wicket away like that after getting a start, it puts pressure on any batsman, but especially so if you are an opening batsman because you are expected to get big scores at the top.

Questions begin to get raised if you should be picked for the next series and it feels really bad to be in that position. At some point, it makes you question yourself. Then you start worrying about your place in the side and insecurity creeps in. You start going into your shell, start thinking too much and go into a totally defensive mode with the bat. That makes things worse.

I decided the only way for me to get out of that place was to cement my place in the team. For that the key was to find the right balance between playing my natural game and making the necessary alterations in temperament to suit my role in the team. I am in a good space right now and the next goal is to maintain that balance and score those big hundreds like I have done at the domestic level.

Which innings was more hard work – 95 at Lord’s or 97 at Durban?

Both were tremendous confidence boosters. In Durban I was under the pump and really wanted to come good. I batted really well at Johannesburg and that gave me confidence going into the Durban Test. The ball was reversing in Durban and it helped that I play a lot of reverse swing back home at the domestic level.

Lord’s was different. We had lost a couple of wickets and the situation was tricky. I told myself, ‘this is my big chance to do something special for the team; get the team out of the jail’. It was wonderful that I could do it.

In two of your best Test innings so far you’ve gotten out in the nineties.

I don’t get too worried about getting out in the nineties if get out to a good ball. In Durban, Steyn was in the middle of a tremendous spell and I just wanted to get through it. But suddenly one ball came back at me and kicked in. At Lord’s I wanted to ensure I stayed at the wicket until the new ball came, which I did. But I couldn’t stay on to play the new ball. I played a little away from the body, trying to push the ball to covers for a couple of runs and keep the momentum going. Maybe I could have left it but I thought it was a pretty good one nipping off the wicket.

What kind of work did you put in to get into this new improved mode?

My main focus was on getting out of the habit of those scores of 30s and 40s because they really haunted me. I had a chat with my coach, Jaykumar, during which we came out with three points: shot selection, shot selection and shot selection. Nothing was wrong technically with my batting, it was only the shot selection that went wrong.

Then it came down to fitness – whether I was throwing it away because I got tired? We worked on small aspects like that and it is paying dividends now. I also got a lot of help from TNCA and Chemplast. Duncan has been helping me a lot as well.

Batting is a very complicated art. There are so many intricacies you have to take care of. How do you mentally prepare yourself for a Test?

Batting is complicated but as a batsman you have to think that it is simple. I should never think that it is complex or else I will complicate things in my head. The red ball is the question posed at me and I am there to answer it with my bat. In the end batting is a reaction sport. You’ve got to react according to the ball that is bowled to you. If it’s a full delivery, you cannot play a pull shot.

I never try to outthink the bowler because that means I am pre-planning and not reacting. I just train my mind so that it is ready to react in the best possible way to the ball. That is what zone is for me. When I react perfectly to every ball, I am in the zone. Sometimes, leaving a ball perfectly will give me more happiness than playing a flamboyant drive.

With some of the shots you play, especially on the onside, you give out traces of VVS Laxman. Is that just a coincidence or something you modeled on him?

VVS Laxman is one of my favourite batsmen and I enjoyed the way he flicked the ball from outside the off-stump. Maybe watching him bat all these years I picked that up from him. But while growing up, when I started to watch international cricket, I really liked Mark Waugh. He made the game look so simple. Anything he did, batting, bowling or fielding, he did it with ease. 

Is there any particular phase in your career that strengthened you the most as a cricketer and person?

Every phase is a challenge because you face different difficulties every time and learn different lessons. Whatever I went through in the initial part of my career is helping me now. After scoring a century (in Bengaluru against Australia in 2010), I didn’t get to play the next Test series. I took it in a positive way saying, something good will come out of this too. It helped me be more mentally balanced whether I do well or not. 

When you become a public figure people form an image of you based on what they read and see in the media. Does the current image that the media portrays of you the correct one?

I don’t think so. I have in fact, spoken to a couple of journalists and asked them what it is that I am doing wrong that they portray me as this guy with a lot of attitude and arrogance. I hardly interact with them and it is only in the press conferences that they see me. I find it strange how they have formed an opinion about me without even knowing me as a person. I don’t know where they gather this information. But, having said that, if there is something that I can do to be a better human being, I am prepared to work on it. I am not a judgmental person. If I read something negative about me, I try to take it in a positive way and think maybe I have portrayed myself in that way.

Cricketers often say they don’t read or listen to what is being said about them. What about you?

I do care about what people think about me but I don’t have the time or the means to go and tell everyone what they think about me is wrong. Also, it is their job to write and say anything they want about a player. I can’t go and tell them what to or not to write about me. If something has really offended me, I would go and clarify things. But at the end of the day, it’s just a perception, not necessarily the truth.

You have played alongside MS Dhoni for many years now – for India and in the IPL. What do you admire the most about him?

He has that knack of assessing the situation and delivering exactly what is needed at that time. It is a rare thing for a cricketer. Most of us go in with our own game plan and stick to it. But he can change the course of action swiftly according to the situation he is faced with. It is very difficult for a sportsman or anyone go out of their comfort zone. MS does that so effortlessly and it is a gift. It is something I have appreciated and tried to pick from him during all these years of IPL and international cricket with him.

Also, I know everybody says that he is calm, but that is because he really is calm. He doesn’t only have to remain calm himself but also ensure everyone else in the dressing room is calm. I’ve had a lot of conversations with him and he has guided me as a person in many ways.

Are you the sorts who make long term career plans?

I want to be a complete batsman who can score runs in any format. It might happen, it may not but I will keep striving for excellence and working hard towards it.

source: bcci.tv

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