Mat­ter of judge­ment – In­dia wary of the new ball, and vow to leave it alone

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - STUART HESS

IN­DIAN opener, Mu­rali Vi­jay be­lieves leav­ing the ball in South African con­di­tions will be al­most as im­por­tant as scor­ing, and that In­dia’s 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, to the ef­fect that there would be a lot of short­pitched 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 Steyn and Ver­non Phi­lan­der both try and tempt bats­men out­side off­s­tump, 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 prac­tis­ing a lot leav­ing the ball, be­cause do­ing so well 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 had re­cov­ered from a hand in­jury. Nev­er­the­less, Vi­jay is one of just two In­dian bats­men in the cur­rent squad who have ex­pe­ri­ence of lo­cal con­di­tions in Test ac­tion. Chetesh­war Pu­jara played two matches in that 2010/11 se­ries and will be a key man at No 3 in the or­der for the In­dia.

Vi­jay’s job will be to en­sure Pu­jara is not ex­posed too early to the new ball. Rather than prac­tis­ing duck­ing and sway­ing to avoid balls fly­ing around his head, Vi­jay says hav­ing the right mind­set is cru­cial to be­ing suc­cess­ful in South Africa. Be­fore com­ing here, Vi­jay played three Ranji Tro­phy matches for his state, Tamil Nadu, but his re­turns were mod­est – just 118 runs in five in­nings with a high­est score of 62. He’s not wor­ried about form though.

“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, 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.”

The ab­sence of Sachin Ten­dulkar of course looms large over the tour­ing party and the 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 will con­fuse you more. That’s key for this tour, I want to fo­cus on my own prepa­ra­tion, rather then go around con­fus­ing my­self,” Vi­jay said.

In­dia’s prepa­ra­tions suf­fered a blow yes­ter­day when the first day of their match against an In­vi­ta­tion XI had to be called off due to a wet out­field at Wil­low­moore Park. Though the sun shone brightly in Benoni, heavy rains had left parts of the out­field sod­den, and the um­pires de­cided to call off play be­fore the sched­uled start­ing time.

In­dia were al­lowed a mid­dle prac­tice. The teams will re­turn to the ground this morn­ing, but with more rain fore­cast, it’s un­likely any play will oc­cur.

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