The two Vijays who finished as the nearly men of Indian cricket

A boy growing up in Bengaluru was spoilt for choice when it came to making that most important of decisions — whom to pick as the hero to follow, to engage with, and to get upset over (on their behalf) if things went wrong.

There were the two spin greats, Erapalli Prasanna and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, batting giants Gundappa Viswanath and Brijesh Patel, the wicketkeeper Budhi Kunderan and his successor Syed Kirmani.

Below international level too there were those who provided endless joy and were subjects of debates in school, players you hoped would make the grade soon as much by their own performances as by the strength of your prayers.

Fandom was different those days. There was room for the ignored-though-talented. If a player failed, no one took it as a personal insult, although the reverse was entertained — a century or a five-wicket haul meant basking in reflected glory.

This is the story of two Vijays who were contemporaries, both all-rounders. Vijayakrishna was a bowler who could bat, Vijaykumar a batsman who could bowl. They played key roles in Karnataka’s first Ranji win. Vijaykumar made 66 and claimed four for nine in the final against Rajasthan while Vijayakrishna’s 71 was the top score.

My notebooks might have been full of the heroic deeds of the Test stars, but they also had pages devoted to others. Vijayakrishna, born in the same year as Viswanath, was one of the most talented players not to have represented the country. As a left arm spinner, he came up against Bishan Bedi, as a batsman down the order against Eknath Solkar, and later Karsan Ghavri.

Yet, as a player and a character, Vijayakrishna will always have a special place in Karnataka cricket. He was a rebel.

Quite early he picked up a reputation for being “difficult”, and owed his entry into first class cricket to that finest of men and captains, V. Subramanyam who told the selectors he would “handle” him; Vijayakrishna was too gifted a player to be lost because he didn’t say “good morning” to a passing official.

Those were key words then. “Difficult” and “handle”. Players were expected to bow and scrape to officialdom; captains needed guts and charisma to overrule silly decisions. We were too young to realise all this, although later we thrilled at the rumour that occasionally a player would ask the 12th man to bring out a smoke at the drinks interval, or check which horse had won a crucial race.

Vijayakrishna could bowl both left arm wrist spin with a potent googly as well as orthodox finger spin which he focused on as his career progressed. He was a terrific striker of the ball, once winning the trophy for the fastest century in the Ranji Trophy. He was also a brilliant fielder at short leg who assisted Prasanna and Chandra as a catcher. The presence of these two meant that Vijayakrishna’s opportunities were limited since they ran through most sides quite comfortably on their own.

Vijayakrishna stood out too for speaking his mind. Asked about his reaction to Sunil Gavaskar batting left-handed against Karnataka in a Ranji semifinal, Vijayakrishna told a historian of Karnataka cricket, “I thought it was pathetic. I wanted to react to his left-handed batting by bowling under-arm. But Vishy (Viswanath) stopped me and said it was not worth it.”

Players were unhappy at Gavaskar’s gesture in a match where Karnataka’s other left arm spinner Raghuram Bhat claimed 13 wickets including a hat-trick. They thought it lacked grace — although Gavaskar later justified it — but kept silent.

Vijayakrishna finished with 195 wickets from 80 first-class matches, scored two centuries and — the statistic he was happiest about — held 76 catches.

The other Vijay, V.S. Vijaykumar was less complicated, both as a person and an opening batsman. At a time when the cry was for an opener to partner Gavaskar in the Indian team, Vijaykumar might have earned a call.

He was a fine striker of the ball, driving upright and pulling medium pacers with abandon. He once made identical scores of 94 in a Ranji quarterfinal against Rajasthan, but that wasn’t thought good enough.

Not that it upset Vijaykumar too much. He was a cheerful, glass half-full kind of person. He opened the bowling for Karnataka too, and for years was the fulcrum around which the State Bank of Mysore team revolved, forming with M.S. Rajappa its most potent opening attack in the local league.

When he opened the bowling for South Zone in the Duleep Trophy, teammate Tiger Pataudi often took on the task of handing his Panama cap to the umpire as he walked back to his run-up. It was a gesture that impressed us schoolboys. That an India captain should do this taught us what it meant to be part of a team. It was a useful lesson early in life.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2021 2:47:10 PM |

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