Murali Vijay came into the Irani Cup having had a wretched domestic season.
The 28-year-old’s woeful run of form had seen him figure in just five Ranji Trophy games for Tamil Nadu, managing a measly 138 runs from eight innings (17.25) -- 42 of them (his highest) having come in the match against Uttar Pradesh.
The fact that he was yet drafted into the Rest of India (RoI) squad, for the tie against Mumbai at the Wankhede stadium, had more to do with his impressive record in the one-off tournament than his recent form.
Vijay has to his credit a double hundred in the tournament. In fact, the last occasion the 28-year-old played in the Irani Cup, he made it a memorable occasion, scoring 266 -- his highest first class score -- as RoI thumped Rajasthan by an innings and 79 runs. (He had made 91 in his only other Irani game against Mumbai in 2009).
That knock, in Hyderabad last year, was the highest individual score in the tournament's history, obliterating a 22-year-old record held by Praveen Amre -- 246 against Bengal in Bangalore in 1990.
The knock in itself was inspirational enough for Vijay and he continued in the same vein, as if it were some unfinished business.
“It was a big game for me,” admitted the batsman, adding, “My motivation level was very high.
“I wanted to give it my best shot.”
Having survived an opening session, that was favourable for bowlers, and getting a reprieve at the start of the second -- caught behind off a Shardul Thakur no ball when on 79, Vijay proceeded to complete his 11th first class hundred.
In the process, he added 144 runs for the opening wicket with Shikhar Dhawan (63) and another 78 for the second with Manoj Tiwary (37), even as RoI ended the day well-laced at 330 for five.
“There was something in the wicket for the bowlers in the first hour. At that stage the match could have gone either way,” explained Vijay, about the cautious start by the RoI openers having put into bat by the hosts.
“However, once we got in we decided to play percentage cricket instead of just hanging around,” he added.
Eventually dismissed for 116 -- an Abhishek Nayar delivery getting past his defence and crashing onto the stumps in the first over after tea -- Vijay’s 206-ball knock was inclusive of 17 hits to the fence and one over it. No doubt he was relieved at having finally made a significant contribution.
Vijay, however, refrained himself from going overboard with the explanation bit.
“Every knock is important,” he averred, his trademark arrogance intact.
“Whenever I’ll get an opportunity I’ll try to make the most of it,” he added.