‘The Monk' turns on the heat

K.R.DEEPAK

Murali Vijay's transformation from a correct and solid opening batsman to a marauder in Twenty20, who has not ignored the basics, reflects a cricketing mind that can find solutions to complex problems. He has changed gears without changing his game, writes S. Dinakar.

Murali Vijay's blitzkrieg at Chepauk stemmed from strong fundamentals. While he was innovative, the opener was also sure-footed. Basics hold the key in any format.

Blatant aggression need not necessarily be at the cost of technique. Vijay's transformation from a correct and solid opening batsman to a marauder in Twenty20, who has not ignored the basics, reflects a cricketing mind that can find solutions to complex problems. He has changed gears without changing his game.

Shane Warne & Co. followed the flight of the ball in agony as it landed in the stands with rather monotonous regularity. These were clean hits, with Vijay, importantly, using his feet to convert the length. Playing from the crease with limited feet movement can allow the bowlers to dominate in Twenty20 cricket.

Vijay's remarkable batting has been the story of the Indian Premier League (IPL) so far. He put his foot on the accelerator and the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) innings zoomed on the Twenty20 highway. Indeed, Vijay ripped open the Rajasthan Royals attack during his 56-ball 127 for CSK. This was high octane batting.

Earlier in the ongoing edition of the IPL, Vijay appeared to be a man caught between two worlds — rather two styles of batting. Did he have to veer away from his time-tested methods to succeed in the abbreviated format?

He was allowing pressure to build and then succumbed to crude heaves — Vijay was striking across the line and paying the price. His timber rattled and Vijay began the long journey back to the dugout. Being such a clean and effortless striker of the ball with the rare gift of timing, he was hardly doing justice to his ability. Vijay was also allowing the stress of dot balls to affect his batting.

He needed to introspect and analyse his game. The sure-footed batsman had risen in the Indian ranks by doing the simple things right — defending good deliveries and putting away the ordinary ones.

Perhaps, Vijay had to take a few calculated risks in the Twenty20 arena, but there was hardly any need for him to dump the essence of his batsmanship.

The 26-year-old batsman from Tamil Nadu can hit through the line, finding the gap in the arc between mid-off and cover. He is exceptionally fluent off his legs and can cut and pull in a jiffy.

In the match against Rajasthan Royals, Vijay was also stroking the ball — his keen eye is backed by exceptional bat-speed — from the off-stump and ruthlessly dispatching it into the stands past the mid-wicket ropes. His wrists are supple and strong.

Again, these were precise strikes rather than mindless attempts to clout the ball. Vijay was picking his spots on the field.

What stands out in his batting is his straight and exemplary back-swing. Vijay often plays with the full face of the willow and can ease the ball down the ground with drives off either foot, pushes and punches. His batting is devoid of exaggerated movements.

In fact, Vijay's graceful 87 against Sri Lanka in the Mumbai Test last season was sprinkled with gorgeous straight drives. He also caressed the ball through the covers; Vijay no more than timed the ball off his front foot and the ball sped to the cover fence. His batting is underlined by balance and poise.

The classical Test opener — Vijay's judgment in the corridor is sound for most part and he seldom takes his eye off the ball while swaying away from the line of short-pitched deliveries — has made the transformation to the Twenty20 stage in a manner that has been sensational. The signs were ominous when he smashed a 42 off just 28 balls against Rajasthan Royals in Ahmedabad. Vijay followed this up with a match-winning 39-ball 78 that floored Royal Challengers Bangalore at Chepauk.

And Vijay boomed during his thrill-a-minute 127 that left even the battle-hardened Warne impressed. As many as 11 sixes adorned the opener's brilliant innings.

While he dismantled the Rajasthan Royals attack ruthlessly, Vijay remained calm in the mind. He did not allow the pressure to mount in the cauldron. Rather, he seized the initiative from the bowlers.

His bat-speed and timing meant the ball was despatched with tremendous velocity. He also harnessed the speed of the ball, slicing the short-pitched deliveries from the quicks over squarish third-man fence.

Crucially, Vijay picks the length early and gives himself that much more time to play his strokes. And in the Twenty20 arena, his strokes are usually attacking ones. This aspect of his batsmanship also provides him with more time to find the gaps.

Vijay has provided the CSK innings thrust and momentum as the side picked itself from the mat. His blazing ways have also taken the heat off Matthew Hayden, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Suresh Raina.

The man called ‘The Monk' for his icy demeanour and single-mindedness is running hot these days.