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Karnataka pacer Vinay Kumar hasn’t played international cricket since November 2013, despite plugging away consistently in the domestic circuit. An assortment of 101 domestic wickets over the past three first-class seasons and the BCCI’s best bowler award in 2015 suggest an impressive body of work. But a return to the national side has all but proved elusive.
It’s getting tougher by the day as well. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar are now Test regulars. So is Ishant Sharma – he will play this game for Delhi after recovering from chikungunya – when fit. Jasprit Bumrah has developed a reputation for death-overs bowling in the shorter formats. Even Hardik Pandya is hitting 140K at times, while Varun Aaron and Shardul Thakur are waiting in the wings. Vinay is 32 years old and has enough reason to be frustrated.
But the medium pacer begs to differ. “I’m not looking at things that way. I’m playing cricket for my love of the game. I see this as a healthy competition that there are many fast bowlers. It’s good for Indian cricket. I’m never going to think about the negatives. If I get my opportunity I want to do really well,” he says, speaking to The Indian Express.
He tries to draw inspiration from Ashish Nehra, who has earned an India recall at 36 years of age. “I don’t know why in India people feel like 30 is old. Ashish Nehra has made a comeback at 35 (36 actually). In other countries fast bowlers hit their peak after 30. Age is just a number, when you feel really fit and strong. From 28 to 32-33 is your peak,” he says.
So he asserts he is not thinking too much of age. “So I’m not thinking much about age and all that. If I perform well I will get the opportunity. And yes, players like Nehra, their comebacks, give you the motivation. When someone is making a comeback at 35, then he must have worked hard on his skill and fitness and kept getting stronger day by day.”
Vinay has, of course, evolved as a bowler, but without tinkering too much with the technical side. He has rather focused on fitness and body strength and tried to become a wholesome package. “I have improved my fitness, added a bit of pace, I have improved my batting, fielding was always there… So overall I have become a good package. I have been improving day by day. It’s not that my graph is going down. Performance-wise and body-wise, everything is going upwards. I’m looking really strong and I’m very happy with that,” he explains.
This term, he has set a personal target of coming back to the Indian team. “More than the numbers, it’s about how good is your bowling in pressure situations; when your team requires wickets.
The challenge is to take wickets in difficult situations. If you keep bowling well you will get three-four five-wicket hauls in a season and your overall tally will reach close to 40,” the Karnataka skipper puts things in perspective.
Injured but involved
Even in his apparent non-action, Vinay didn’t look desolate. Karnataka had started their match-eve training session at Eden Gardens, and their captain was present right from the start despite having a calf strain. The injury had rendered him ineffective after just 2.3 overs in Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy opener against Jharkhand. It has ruled him out of the Delhi game, starting here on Thursday.
Vinay’s captaincy replacement, Karun Nair, describes his coronation, albeit stopgap, as a “huge honour”. But the former is very much the leader of the team, so he had to be there at the nets all through, a sore calf notwithstanding. “I will return next match,” Vinay asserts. He leads a team that had set the standards for two consecutive seasons before losing their grip on domestic competitions last term. In 2013-14, when the golden run began, it had been a relatively callow unit with many talented youngsters dreaming big. Vinay was the cynosure – an India limited-overs regular then. Three seasons down the line, things have changed. KL Rahul has cemented his place in the Test team, Manish Pandey has become an ODI regular, Stuart Binny remains in the scheme of things, Mayank Agarwal and Nair have been knocking on the door; but their captain seems to have fallen off the radar.
His team will have to regain its winning mojo if Vinay wants to get close to the mark. And the captain feels the boys are now a lot more focused after the last season’s setback. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise; the last season. The boys got to know the other side of the game and now they would learn from their mistakes,” he says. He ends the conversation lending his support to the Ranji Trophy’s neutral venue experiment.