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For some, however, absence can mean a gradual fading away from the reckoning, and a resigned acceptance that the big opportunities have gone, never to return. Two men featuring in the Champions League Twenty20, key members of their respective franchises, might well be edging closer to the latter camp.
Before the West Indies tour earlier this year, Murali Vijay had been dismissed for single figures only three times in 14 Test innings. But he had crossed 50 only three times. On six occasions, he had crossed 25 without reaching the half-century mark. As a result of all this, his average was 38.35 — a sequence of good scores would push it beyond 40, but a sequence of poor scores would send it plummeting.
And plummet they did, in challenging conditions in the Caribbean. By the end of the Test series, his average had slipped to 30.45. The wafts outside off stump were beginning to consume him with increasing frequency, and early in his innings. Everyone hits a run of bad form at some point, but the really good batsmen make the most of good form.
This has always been Vijay’s problem. There is little that is wrong with his technique — at least in comparison to someone like Abhinav Mukund, who has repeatedly fallen while playing away from the body, or Suresh Raina, whose weakness against short ball is quite well known. He can defend off the backfoot, looks nicely balanced, and has that elusive ingredient — time to play his shots. But he simply doesn’t convert his starts.
This compulsive need to throw away his wicket has been even more exaggerated in ODIs. He has batted eleven times in 50-over matches and reached double figures nine times without once scoring a half-century, and averages 17.81.
Possibly his defining innings in India blues came at Guwahati last November, in the first of five ODIs against New Zealand. The selectors had rested a large number of regulars for the series, to try and give the fringe players a final go to see who could stake a decisive claim for the forthcoming World Cup.
Vijay came out looking like he was batting in a videogame, set to ‘easy’ mode. Daryl Tuffey and Kyle Mills were caressed to all parts for five boundaries in the first six overs. The opener really did look— cliché alert — like he had a century for the taking.
But on 29, he walked down the track to Tuffey and swung blindly across the line. The ball ballooned vertically, the keeper pouched it, and Vijay was on his way. Perhaps he had set the videogame to ‘novice’ mode.
The next two ODIs saw him make 33 and 30 — his two highest ODI scores. He wasn’t considered for the last two matches, and his ODI comeback, in difficult conditions at Durban and Cape Town, brought him scores of 1 and 1. Vijay’s World Cup dream was gone.
While Vijay waned, Yusuf Pathan waxed, in a different position. In the penultimate ODI against New Zealand, he smashed an unbeaten 123 at Bangalore to take India to a 300-plus target. He followed this up with scores of 59 and 105 in South Africa, and began the World Cup as the man who gave India their X-factor at number seven. But he was — unfairly, perhaps — singled out for India’s batting powerplay failures against England and South Africa, and left out of the side for all the knockout games. A return to the ODI team in the West Indies saw him make 42 in four innings.
Vijay wasn’t considered for the Test team in England, while Yusuf didn’t get a call-up for the ODIs. They are 27 and 28, and have little in their CVs that is substantially different from those in the kitbags of the 22 and 23-year-olds they jostle with for places in the Indian set-up.
Over the next couple of weeks, both men will find themselves in something of a lose-lose situation. If they don’t make runs for their franchises, their form will come into question. If runs do come — Yusuf’s four sixes off part-timer Arul Suppiah, for instance — they might be seen as mere Twenty20 runs, scored in a climate in Indian cricket that isn’t looking particularly kindly upon the shortest version.