Vinay makes strong statement

After a forgettable Test debut, the Karnataka paceman has come into his own

Two outstanding innings have not only ensured that spotlight remained firmly on Mahendra Singh Dhoni during India’s two consecutive wins and a tense tie in the on-going CB series, but they have also diverted attention from another wonderful performer – R Vinay Kumar.

Vinay Kumar has been the pick of the India bowlers in the ongoing triangular series in Australia. AFP

After four matches, the Karnataka pacer has nine wickets at a vastly impressive average of 20.11 and an economy rate of 4.89, a clear evidence of his growing comfort at the highest level. Those records also tell the story of a remarkable change in the fortunes of an unassuming cricketer, from one among the foot soldiers to one of the frontline bowlers.

After a less than impressive Test debut at the WACA, Vinay was expected to play only a passive role in the tri-series, also involving Australia and Sri Lanka. But the team management gave the new-ball duty to Vinay during the two T20s at Sydney and in the first one-dayer at Melbourne in the absence of Zaheer Khan, who was rested due to a knee niggle.

Vinay didn’t disappoint either, producing some measured spells and he also picked up a wicket or two upfront that put the opposition under considerable pressure. When other bowlers leaked runs, the right-arm medium pacer turned in a thrifty spell (7-0-21-3) that ensured a place for him in the playing eleven for the next three matches.

The think tank’s belief in Vinay’s abilities mirrored in their decision to omit Praveen Kumar when Zaheer returned to the field. He was an ideal foil for Zaheer, not letting the opposition score off him particularly in the slog and Power Play overs.

The Karnataka skipper’s bowling philosophy is quite simple, just like the man himself. Vinay doesn’t have the searing pace of Umesh Yadav or Zaheer’s genius, but he has immense control over his craft. He has a beautiful in-swinger and now Vinay has developed a very useful off cutter and a Lasith Malinga-like sling-arm deliver, which he uses sparingly, that has at times caught batsmen off guard. Add a slow bouncer and a well-disguised slow delivery to the mix, Vinay becomes a consistent package, a determined bowler on whom the team can bank upon on any surface.

The match against Sri Lanka at the Adelaide Oval was a classic example of Vinay’s reliability. On a pitch that didn’t offer much margin for error, the Davanagere man bowled seven overs in the Power Plays, conceding only 25 runs for the wickets of Mahela Jayawardene and Tharanga.

So, the latter part of the Australian summer is proving to be beneficial for Vinay, but the process of him becoming an important part in India’s one-day scheme of things began much earlier, from the ODI series at home against England last year to be precise.

In the injury-enforced absence of Zaheer, Vinay shared the new ball with Praveen in five one-dayers, and grabbed six wickets in a series dominated by R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. It wasn’t an eye-popping show, but contained enough signals to convince the selectors that Vinay merited consistent chances at the top level.

Based on his intelligent spells against England, the 28-year-old was given another prolonged stint in the one-dayers against the West Indies late last year. With Praveen too sidelined due to an injury, Vinay struck a fruitful partnership with Umesh and Varun Aaron. Even without an obvious ‘weapon’, Vinay matched his younger colleagues in effectiveness, producing spells of unerring accuracy and variety.

That version of Vinay was completely unrecognisable from the bowler, who struggled to make an impact early in his career, taking five wickets from seven matches at 56.40 and giving away 6.28 runs an over.

The bigwigs too were convinced of the transformation, and gave Vinay a ticket to Australia. But his Test debut at Perth coincided with an exceptional day in the park for David Warner, who muscled his way to one of the fastest hundreds in Test history.

It’s a just reflection of Vinay’s resilience that he didn’t allow that fearful whacking to affect his psyche, and had Warner’s number on a couple of occasions in the subsequent T20s and one-dayers.

From that home series against England, Vinay has played 13 matches, taking 20 wickets at 25.20, and his economy rate too has come down to a more acceptable 5.14. But unfortunately some experts still talk with a touch of incredulity about his presence in the eleven.

But it won’t be bothering Vinay for he knows that he has earned his place, and he’s making it count.

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