IPL is the Link Between Domestic and International Cricket: R Vinay Kumar
R Vinay Kumar, the victorious Ranji Trophy captain from Karnataka who played 41 internationals for India – one Test, 31 ODIs and 9 T20Is between 2010 and 2013 – gave his best whenever he was on the field. As a right-arm medium-pacer, he bowled his heart out on the Indian pitches, playing 139 first-class matches for 504 wickets, 141 List A matches for 225 sticks and 181 T20s for 194 wickets. Even in his last season of active playing (2019-20), for his adopted side Puducherry after leaving Karnataka so as to not block the place of a young fast bowler breaking into the side, he was both economical and among wickets, leading from the front.
Having called it quits from the game last week, Vinay is currently playing in the Road Safety World Series for India Legends alongside his India and IPL team-mates including Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh, Md Kaif, Zaheer Khan among others in Raipur. In this exclusive interview with news18.com, the 37-year-old Vinay, hailing from Davanagere in Karnataka, pours his heart out on how his career shaped up.
What made you quit from cricket a week before the current Road Safety World Series? Could you have continued for a season or two?
I was having this thought last year that I will play one more year of Ranji Trophy, or maximum two more years. But because of the pandemic, there were no tournaments last year. That time, I was not sure of playing Ranji Trophy or domestic cricket. I had offers from other states. I was not sure of playing this year. When they started playing Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 and Vijay Hazare Trophy 50 overs, I took it easy this year. Basically, I would have taken a chance if I had any opportunity of making a comeback into the Indian team. I did not see that happening as I am already 37. I could have taken that risk but I knew it was going to be a huge one. At this stage and age, I thought best was to take care of my family.
Are you prepared for life after cricket?
Yes, yes. It is easy for me. I don’t think so much about anything. When you are playing, you are playing. When you are not playing, you don’t play. Simple. A cricketer’s career lasts till 37-38 years. Batsmen can push up to 40. For bowlers, playing at 37-38 years is a very good thing. Of course, I will give back to the game. But right now, I am not thinking how to stay without playing cricket.
How do you look back at your career, coming from Davanagere to play Tests, leading Karnataka to Ranji Trophy titles and other domestic trophies?
When I look back, there have been so many highs – When I made my debut for Karnataka (against Bengal in 2004-05), when I made my debut for India in ICC World T20 in West Indies (against Sri Lanka in 2010), my ODI debut in Zimbabwe, 2010, my Test debut in Perth, 2012 (his only Test), winning Ranji Trophy for Karnataka as captain, playing in IPL, getting the Purple Cup midway through one IPL tournament, there are so many highs I can look back with pride. I have always performed for the team. Defending 8-9 runs against good batsmen, winning Ranji Trophy and two other domestic titles in a year, going on to defend them successfully the next season, there are so many performances for Karnataka, bowling my heart out for India, my best ODI figures of 4/30 against England (in Delhi, 2011), my first Ranji Trophy wicket – that of Rohan Gavaskar – my first T20I wickets on my debut –Sanath Jayasuriya and Kumar Sangakkara – my only Test wicket (Mike Hussey)…. I can go on and on. I am satisfied with my cricketing career.
You played only one Test. You had to wait long for your only wicket. Did you regret not playing more than one Test?
I was normal. I did not think any different in my Test match. I was thrilled to be playing Test cricket for India. I was the fourth seamer in that Test (after Ishant Sharma, Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav). Being the fourth seamer, I restricted myself. The way you think as a main bowler in the side and the way you think as a fourth seamer in the side are different. As the fourth seamer, I looked at keeping my end tight. Perhaps I did not give my 100 per cent. I was happy I got Hussey’s wicket. I was just enjoying the process.
Vinay Kumar after winning the Ranji Trophy. (G Krishnan)
How was the transition phase from domestic cricket to international cricket?
The key was playing in IPL from its first season. Having played for Karnataka and then to go on to play for India, IPL was the link between the domestic and international cricket. When I played in the IPL, I got the opportunity to play with all the Indian stars and all the international players. I would not have got that opportunity playing only domestic cricket. After playing in the IPL, my thinking process changed, the decision-making changed. That helped me perform at the international level.
Considering the numbers in international cricket – one Test wicket, 38 ODI wickets in 31 matches, 20 scalps in 9 T20Is – did you think you could have done much more?
I am very happy with what I have achieved. I felt I could have got more Tests to play than just that one Test. In ODIs, I did well in the role that was expected of me by the team. It is not that I was not doing well. I was the highest wicket-taker in my last ODI series among pacers from both the sides (8 in 5 matches). At the end of the day, it is a sport. And it is all about performances. I performed to the best of my ability. I could have got more opportunities in Tests. I went back to Karnataka, performed really well in all the departments, and won trophies for them. I was happy I helped youngsters to do better and helped them to play for the country. Giving the youngsters a free hand in domestic cricket, backing them when the chips are down. I am not the kind to sit back and think, ‘It should have happened like this or that’. I have no regrets. I am very easy going. I could have done much better if given more opportunities in Test cricket because my performance speaks in red-ball cricket (Vinay has taken 504 wickets in 139 first-class matches). But I did not get any more opportunity. There have been so many other cricketers who have done badly in their first Test. But at the end of the day, it is cricket. Being a cricketer, you have to perform, be it for the country, the state, or club. You have to be satisfied and when you go back home, you should be proud of achievement. I am very happy.
Coming from a small centre in Karnataka, Davanagere, and going on to play for the country must not have been easy. How was the journey?
Coming from Davanagere, initially I used to enjoy my game more than thinking about anything else. Definitely the desire was there to play for Karnataka, for India. If you ask any youngster, he will say he wants to play for the country. I don’t know what they meant but they simply said that. I was one of them. Playing for the country is the biggest goal and at that age, you don’t understand what to do, what not to do. My plus point was my processes were really good, the way I practiced in Davanagere. The focus was always there, there was something new to learn daily. One thing I knew was that there was no shortcut to success. Some got success early, some others got it late.
To give an example, there was state schools team selection in Mangalore. Five or six boys from Davanagere went to the selection. I was 14 or 15 then. I was not selected but the others who came with me from Davanagere were selected. I was doing really well at that time. I did not give up. Very soon, Tumkur Zone under-16 selection was coming up. I took it up as a challenge and got selected. Then I played U-19, U-25. In my first selection for Karnataka U-16, I did not get an opportunity to play in the 11. I got to play only in under-19. I got an opportunity to play in the KSCA Diamond Jubilee tournament. My first game was against Indian Oil Corporation that included Wasim Jaffer and Zaheer Khan among others. In the next game, I played against Railway Sports Promotion Board and took a hat-trick including that of Yere Goud, all three batsmen were bowled. My journey started there. I was selected for Karnataka in the one-dayers but did not get a chance to play. I made my Karnataka debut the next season in Ranji Trophy.
You were a leader of the Karnataka bowling attack for years. You were also the leader of the bowling attack for the Indian team for a while. How did you handle that?
I was the main bowler, especially when India went to Australia and England and also in a few home series. Whenever I got an opportunity to play, I bowled whatever I was good at. Even in the T20s, I did well. In the home series against Australia, my last series, I did pretty well. My plan was simple – to bowl wicket to wicket, back of the length, and I used to get success. In Bengaluru (of that same series), I did the same thing. Everyone went for runs (Vinay went for 102 runs in his 9 overs and got the wicket of Glenn Maxwell). The best part of that game was that we won. My captain MS Dhoni used to trust me to bowl in the death overs. That period was very memorable.
How was it playing under Dhoni?
MS was the kind of captain who gave you a free hand, allowed you to do what you wanted to do, he backed my plans. His captaincy helped me and other bowlers, especially the youngsters.
Playing under Dhoni, did that rub on you when you led Karnataka?
The experience you gain while playing for the country will always help you when you play for your State. There were so many positive things being with the Indian team like how to adapt to situations and knowing the strengths and weaknesses of my players. I learnt from my own experience that knowing my players as much as knowing the opposition well has helped. I will know how to use my players according to situations, how to get the best from my players. Playing under different captains for Karnataka, India, IPL teams and other teams helped me develop as a cricketer. It is my responsibility as a captain to help my team-mates.
Did it make a difference being a bowler-captain?
I don’t think about a batsman being a captain or a bowler being a captain. You have to lead from the front. You have to do yourself first what you expect of your team. The most important thing is knowing your own team’s strength and weakness. You may have so many players in your armoury but should know which one to use when, what kind of a bowler to be used on a flat track or which spinner to use at the right time, which kind of a batsman struggles against a particular bowler. I gave myself so much time to understand these. Even in the nets, I used to observe the lengths my bowlers were bowling. Someone may look ordinary in the nets but may be good on a particular type of pitch.
As captain, you should be the first person to go out and do it yourself. I enjoyed those moments. Getting a crucial breakthrough was like getting five wickets for me. More than anything, I let my youngsters perform to the best by giving them a freehand.
You have had your share of injuries and yet kept coming back strong, even having some very economical figures in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for Puducherry in 2019-20 before the pandemic broke. How difficult is it for fast bowlers to bowl for long in India?
I really want to change the mindset of the people. Fast bowling is very difficult, it is a thankless job. When you are mentally strong, then only will you take up fast bowling. It is a challenge on the kind of pitches that we have in India. Out of 10 matches, you will face six or seven pitches that will be batting-friendly. You learn from those pitches. You can either complain about the pitch or find a way to develop as a cricketer. Playing in Indian conditions will help you improve your skills. With so much cricket played now-a-days, you will face injuries. Earlier, we had three-four months of off-season. Now, there is no off-season. Injuries and small niggles are part and parcel of the game.
Fast bowling is a difficult job but a great art. If anyone wants to take up fast bowling, one should be ready to take up the challenge. It will be a fun-filled journey. Most people say they gave up fast bowling to become batsmen. But when you perform as a fast bowler, you will be happy.
You have had success in T20s even in the last season that you played (2019-20). What is the secret to bowling in the T20s? Is it containing runs or picking up wickets even if you get hit?
If you start thinking about not giving runs, you will restrict yourself from taking wickets. The best way is to go for wickets, and in the process, by picking up wickets, you stop the run flow. If a batsman survives your bowling, he will go for runs against other bowlers. It all depends on the team strategy. The current Indian bowlers go for wickets and always think of getting the batsmen out rather than surviving. If you are in the survival mode, it gets difficult.
CRICKETNEXT POLL: WHO WOULD YOU PICK IN INDIA’S PLAYING XI FOR T20Is AGAINST ENGLAND?
How impressive is the current crop of Indian fast bowlers?
You have so many bowlers and only a few play in all the formats. With so much cricket today, it takes a toll on the body. The BCCI has done the right thing by choosing different bowlers for different formats. That way, the bowlers also get a good break and recover. They will give their best when they are fresh. The beauty of the current set up is that even when the seniors are out, the juniors come and perform, the best example being the last Test in Australia.
There have been so many injuries, especially with the fast bowlers. The belief is that they do too much of gym work and not bowl on the field. What is the right way to stay injury-free?
Bowling in the nets and training give the right balance. You cannot do one and ignore the other. If you do, you cannot sustain for long. Only weight training and not bowling leads to problems, and vice-versa. Both have to go together. You do endurance training. Muscle memory is important. Knowing how much a player is playing is also important. A bowler has to know his body completely. There is no point just doing weights. It might not be good for the bowler. Getting the right balance is the key.