Chennai again prepares to greet its stars, Ashwin and Vijay

The fifth Test between India and England starting at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium here on Friday once again provides the city an opportunity to greet Ravichandran Ashwin and Murali Vijay — its two most successful Test cricketers.

India's off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin (centre) and Murali Vijay (left), along with Rohit Sharma, walk back to the pavilion after India's victory against New Zealand in the first Test in Kanpur in September. Ashwin and Vijay are Chennai's most successful Test cricketers.   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

Although battered by Cyclone Vardah, Chennai’s spirit has shone through. The city now gears to host the fifth Test between India and England.

The match starting at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium on Friday once again provides the city an opportunity to greet Ravichandran Ashwin and Murali Vijay — its two most successful Test cricketers.

It is difficult and unfair to compare eras. For instance, we will never know how many runs Kripal Singh or T. E. Srinivasan would have made against the present-day attacks had they been given a decent run, or how many wickets S. Venkataraghavan, V. V. Kumar or S. Vasudevan might have taken in these times. The chances are that these talented cricketers would have done very well. Venkat did receive his opportunities but had to compete with three phenomenal spinners of that generation; often the spoils had to be shared.

Yet, at the end of the day, we do have to respect the numbers. No cricketer from Tamil Nadu comes close to Ashwin’s present tally of 247 wickets in 43 Tests at 24.22. This includes a staggering seven 10-wicket match and 24 five-wicket innings hauls. Add to this the 30-year-old off-spinner’s 1749 runs at 34.29 and we have a genuine all-rounder who can win games, at least in the sub-continental conditions.

Vijay, cast in the classical mould, has made runs in difficult circumstances, when the ball swung around in England or seamed and bounced in Australia. Nobody from Tamil Nadu has more runs in Tests than Vijay, who has scored 3151 in 46 Tests at 40.39 with eight centuries and 14 fifties.

Vijay does a hard job at the top of the innings, when the shiny ball darts around. The 32-year-old opener is a very different batsman from Chennai’s swashbuckling opener from the past, Krishnamachari Srikkanth.

The aggressive Srikkanth destroyed attacks on his day, was popular but had his flaws. Technically, Vijay is a class act even if he briefly strayed from his path of ‘leaving-the-delivery’ after his hundred in the first Test in Rajkot and fell victim to uncharacteristic dismissals.

Subsequently, Vijay rediscovered the discipline in his game. His head still and footwork organised, both while moving forward or getting back, Vijay made a hundred that soothed one’s senses in Mumbai.

Ashwin has been running through line-ups, harnessing the angles and employing his variety. This England batting, save Alastair Cook and Joe Root, lacks the quality to take on Ashwin if the pitch lends some assistance.

The English batsmen, not reading Ashwin from the hand, have consequently struggled to pick the length.

Ashwin’s performance at Chepauk is much better than Vijay’s, with the off-spinner sending back 12 batsmen in the 2013 Test here against Australia. In the same match, Vijay made only 10 and 6.

However, in the two countries where cricketing excellence is often judged — Australia and England — Vijay has fared much better. The opener has 482 runs in four Tests in Australia at 60.25 and 402 in five Tests in England at 40.20. Ashwin, with the ball, has just three wickets in two Tests in England at 33.66 and 21 scalps in six Tests in Australia at 54.71.

But then, the two players from Chennai have to travel a fair distance in their careers yet.