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Street smart and loving it

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA
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Cricket Medium fast bowler Vinay Kumar talks about growing up, learning the hard way and still making the most of his time on the pitch

The struggleHas paid off for Vinayphoto: K Murali Kumar
The struggleHas paid off for Vinayphoto: K Murali Kumar

If there was an instance during India’s recent slugfest of a one-day series with Australia that exemplified R. Vinay Kumar, it was his run-out of George Bailey in Bangalore. Gathering the ball at one end of the pitch, Vinay spotted Bailey a couple of casual paces outside his crease at the other. No sooner did he receive the ball that he fired it at the keeper across the pitch, effecting Bailey’s dismissal at a critical juncture in the match.

There is one term most commonly used to describe Vinay: ‘street smart’. “I come from the districts; so maybe the way you play there, you need to be smart,” he says. “Not that you won’t find street smart cricketers in Bangalore, but the district kids come up the hard way. They don’t have these facilities; they know how hard it is.”

Vinay recalls his own days as a junior cricketer in Davangere, where the struggle to so much as set up a net session ensured players sought the most out of it. “My coach Prakash Pawar and I would put up the nets ourselves. They weren’t even these modern nets that you can pull and draw; you had to erect five or six poles, unfold the whole thing out and hammer nails into the ground."

“Sweeping the wicket, carrying the mat and laying it out – all that we did on our own. When you bowl, you create craters on the pitch. So we had to fill them up the previous evening, hauling mud from somewhere. Then in the morning, we had to roll that area to make sure we didn’t slip. We needed to fetch water in a bucket from 200 metres outside the ground. It was hard, but we didn’t think of it like that at that time. We just enjoyed it. Today, to me the facilities here seem so good; everything is done for you and all you have to do is turn up and play,” he says.

Vinay is aware that he is not the quickest of bowlers and his medium-pace, if inaccurate, can be cannon fodder. His spontaneity, his thinking, his assorted slower ones and cutters are thus perhaps born out of a need for survival. “I don’t bowl at 140 kmph; I don’t have that sort of pace,” he admits. “My strength is out-swing and bowling in the areas. I bowl between 130 and 135, where the margin of error is very small. But if you’re swinging the ball, that speed is more than enough.”

Much was made of Vinay’s figures of one for 102 from that last ODI in Bangalore. There was criticism and ridicule in the aftermath of the series, ignoring that he operated frequently in the powerplays and the late overs, or that he snapped budding partnerships, or that he finished with 11 wickets from the tournament (including the one T20), more than any bowler on both sides.

“It’s very easy for people to sit at home with a beer or a coffee and comment: ‘Oh, what’s he doing man, he’s getting hammered!’ But they need to see what’s happening. In the last match, I conceded over 100 runs but they came off deliveries I consider my strength. I bowled the same balls in Ranchi and Jaipur and I got wickets. In Bangalore, Glenn Maxwell got out to the same ball.

“People must understand that we can’t win every day. We intend to but we can’t. Even when they play any game – carrom or chess – they can’t win every time. But I ignore all those things. I don’t care. I bowl according to my plan, in good areas. If the batsman still hits it, good luck to him. I don’t worry.”

It is apparent that the captain, M.S. Dhoni, places a lot of faith in Vinay, handing him the ball at sensitive moments in a match. “Even when I have gone for runs, he appreciates me if have bowled well. ‘He may have hit you, but that’s OK; you have bowled well,’ he says. I’m really happy he has so much faith in me.”

In the Indian dressing room, players are not singled out and that builds confidence and trust, Vinay says. “Our philosophy is ‘one for all and all for one’. If we are five bowlers in the group, it is not possible for all five to perform. Only two or three may do well. But ultimately, the team has to win. The Indian dressing room is a great place. There is never any fear, even when we are chasing say, 360. It’s a very healthy atmosphere.”

This last week, Vinay – though not originally in the squad for the West Indies ODI series scheduled this month – was called up after an injury to Dhawal Kulkarni. While his exclusion in the first place felt unfair, the recall showed he remained in the selectors’ plans.

“I do want to play in the World Cup (2015) but I’m not thinking too far ahead,” he says. “I enjoy every minute I’m out there.” For someone who spent all those hours simply preparing for practice, joy on the pitch comes easily.

SHREEDUTTA CHIDANANDA

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