Johannesburg – Indian opener Murali Vijay believes leaving the ball in South African conditions will be almost as important as scoring and that their batsmen need to perfect their judgment ahead of the first Test at the Wanderers next week.
The tourists know exactly what’s coming to them at the “Bullring” from next Wednesday, and, while they lack experience of South African conditions, they believe they have the right tactics to enable them to nullify South Africa’s imposing attack.
“There’s a lot that’s being thrown around,” 29-year-old Vijay said about remarks attributed to Dale Steyn that there’d be a lot of short pitched bowling coming India’s way in the two Tests. “But for us it is about keeping it simple, freeing your mind, and then just playing.”
The most simple approach, especially against the new ball, which Vijay and opening partner Shikhar Dhawan will be facing, is to leave it alone. They feel that Steyn and Vernon Philander try to tempt batsmen outside off-stump, and to negate that threat, it’s best to practice leaving the ball.
“I was watching old videos of the last time I came to South Africa. I played at a lot of balls. I’ve got a better idea now, and will be practicing a lot leaving the ball, because doing so will help us a lot. Nullifying the new ball is crucial.”
Vijay was in the starting side that claimed India’s second Test win on South African soil at Kingsmead in 2010 as Virender Sehwag’s opening partner. He made just 19 and nine in that match and was dropped for the final Test of that series when Gautam Gambhir recovered from a hand injury.
Nevertheless, Vijay is one of just two Indian batsmen in the current squad who have experience of South African conditions. Cheteshwar Pujara played two matches in that 2010/11 series and will be a key man at No3 for the Indians.
Vijay’s job will be to ensure Pujara’s not exposed too early to the new ball. Rather than practicing, ducking and swaying to avoid balls flying around his head, Vijay says having the right mind-set is crucial to being successful in South Africa. Before coming here, Vijay played three Ranji Trophy matches for his state, Tamil Naidu, but his returns were modest – just 118 runs in five innings with a highest score of 62. He’s not worried about form, though.
“For me it’s not about how many runs I score, it’s how I feel inside,” remarked Vijay. “If I am in good touch and hitting the ball well, that’s what matters most, in that aspect, I’m feeling at my best and I’m in the best mind-set, so obviously I’m looking forward to this tour and what I can do against South Africa.”
The absence of Sachin Tendulkar, of course, looms large over the Indian touring party and the Wanderers Test will be the first time they will be without the “Little Master” since his retirement. “Sachin taught me to try and get my own answers before talking to people, because that would confuse me more. That’s key for this tour, I want to focus on my own preparation, rather than go around confusing myself.”
India’s preparations suffered a blow yesterday when the first of their two-day tour matches against a South African Invitation XI had to be called off due to a wet outfield at Willowmoore Park.
Though the sun shone brightly in Benoni, the past week’s heavy rains had left parts of the outfield sodden, and the umpires decided to call off play before the scheduled starting time.
India were, nevertheless, allowed to have a practice session in the middle on the pitch prepared for the match. The teams will return to the ground this morning, but with more rain forecast, it’s unlikely any play will occur.