How do you define Vinay Kumar the bowler? Or rather, how do you classify him? Is he a swing bowler good enough to play Test cricket for India? Is he a domestic cricket behemoth who takes wickets for fun? Is he the best among the plethora, who fall in the ‘honest trier’ category and peg away tirelessly in the back-alleys of domestic cricket without reward or remorse? Or is he the one bowler you want by your side on an Indian pitch with an overtly green tinge and the Ranji Trophy up for grabs?
In some books, he fulfils all those categories. Maybe he doesn’t in others. Vinay Kumar is an enigma, in a cricketing sense anyway. If anything, he’s the modern-day Lakshmipathy Balaji. For, you could use the exact same question-set for the veteran Tamil Nadu seamer as well and end up as inconclusive as you did to start with.
But if patience and persistence could be quantified in any way and be made a part of the extensive stats package that accompanies each bowler to the crease, Vinay and Balaji would be its poster-boys. They are also the likes who justify the many clichés that float around cricketing circles, by actually running in hard and giving their all, and actually operating in the ‘right channel’ relentlessly. Then there are days where it pays off, and they run through opposition camps. Like they did on the opening day of the Ranji Trophy final at the Wankhede Stadium.
The pitch in Mumbai had some juice in it on Sunday. You wouldn’t call it a green-top though. Maybe more a half-yearly bonus for Vinay and Balaji for having toiled away on the more benign tracks around the country over the last six months. It wasn’t one that they weren’t going to make the most of.
Bowlers day out
And on a day that saw stodgy scoring, an exhibition of poor shot-selection and a stream-line of harried batsmen, it was Vinay and Balaji who stole the show. It was the Karnataka captain who started it off, snaring yet another five-wicket haul to blow Tamil Nadu away for 134. Then Balaji took over, getting rid of the who’s who of the Karnataka batting line-up to leave them reeling at 45/4 with KL Rahul retired hurt with a pulled hamstring.
Vinay began by getting one up on the Australian fast bowlers and trapping the in-form Murali Vijay in front with a sharp in-ducker. Then he bowled Baba Aparajith with an even more devilish in-swinger that went through his defences. That is before he returned to remove the only obstacle in his team’s path, his opposite number Abhinav Mukund-his 300th scalp in the Ranji Trophy. Tamil Nadu never recovered.
Then Balaji returned the favour by getting R Samarth and Robin Uthappa caught behind off deliveries that left them before snaring Manish Pandey with a short delivery that didn’t bounce much and got the aggressive right-hander attempting an ugly swipe. That was probably the only delivery that misbehaved to an extent, apart from one that smashed into Mukund’s finger earlier in the day. But Vinay and Balaji don’t require magic deliveries to dismiss batsmen. They instead kill you softly. Without a bellow, without any menace.
They are like hunters who aren’t blessed with the big guns or ammunition but have the tact and cunning to lure their unsuspecting prey into traps that they’ve laid with great deception and disguise. For, on the face of it, the length ball on and around off-stump has to be the most harmless delivery in cricket. It’s not directed at your throat with a death-warrant. In fact, it’s not even headed towards your stumps with evil intentions. But yet, it presents an inherent threat. For, it plays on your temperament. It poses a stringent test to your resolve.
It’s the delivery that Balaji and Vinay specialize in. And on Sunday, the batsmen on both sides didn’t have the disposition to deal with the incessant nagging from the two senior pros. Or maybe they just weren’t allowed to display it by those two remorseless poster-boys of patience and persistence.
Brief scores: Tamil Nadu 134 all out in 62.4 overs (A Mukund 35; R Vinay Kumar 5/34, A Mithun 3/54) vs Karnataka 45/4 in 14 overs (A Mithun batting 14; L Balaji 3/13)