Across the country, ask 103 hapless victims, and they will all testify to the understanding that exists between R Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and Srinath Arvind. Seldom, if ever, in the history of Indian domestic cricket have three quick bowlers from the same state made the kind of impact this versatile and varied trio has in this year’s Ranji Trophy, their unprecedented success one of the principal reasons behind Karnataka’s wonderful surge to the title round.
At 25, the lion-hearted Vinay, until this season largely unheralded despite more than modest success, is the leader of the pack, the bowling captain who has enveloped his two younger mates under his wings. Mithun, in his first season, is at once the battering ram and the sponge, quickly absorbing everything his more experienced partner has to offer while Arvind, enjoying a fresh lease of life after a knee injury threatened to end his career, is making the most of his second coming.
“It’s been brilliant this year,” says Vinay, relishing sharing the workload as well as the wickets. With 39 sticks to his name, he is the highest wicket-taker in the country this season, but he is quick to deflect praise. “It has helped hugely that Mithun is at the other end, softening up and working over batsmen. You can see, standing at mid-off, that his extra pace and the bounce he extracts makes batsmen uneasy. That can only be to my advantage!”
Mithun, at 20 showing a maturity and composure way beyond his years, joins in. “Like batting, bowling too is about partnerships,” he observes. “It’s no good blasting away at one end if runs are flowing at the other. Vinay is brilliant in the lines and lengths he bowls. He keeps it tight and therefore, there is pressure on batsmen from both ends.”
The 20-year-old Mithun has 38 wickets while left-arm seamer Arvind has accounted for 26 batsmen already. “Coming on as first-change behind Vinay and Mithun has been very good,” notes Arvind, who only made his debut during Karnataka’s quarterfinal loss to Saurashtra last season. “Often, early breakthroughs have been made; my job is to continue to maintain the pressure, and try and pick up wickets where I can.”
All through the season, Mithun points out, he has benefited from great tips not just from ‘coach Sanath sir’ and ‘skipper Rahul sir’, but also from Vinay. “No one has at any stage asked me to drop my pace. Vinay keeps talking to Arvind and to me about what lengths we must bowl on different tracks. Every time I have struggling a bit, he has been quick to walk up with a word of advice, and it has invariably helped.”
What he is doing, Vinay acknowledges, is what he has learnt from his predecessors. “Before every game, we have a bowlers’ meeting where we discuss what needs to be done in the match. Our plans revolve around what kind of pitch we are playing on, and who the opposition is. Sometimes, in the heat of battle, we tend to forget the plans; that’s when you need to step in and sort things out.
“I remember when I was starting out, people like Venky (Prasad), Dodda (Ganesh) and (NC) Aiyappa helped me a great deal. What I am doing today is exactly what I was taught when I first broke in. When things aren’t going your way, it is best to go back to the basics and start afresh.”
The emergence of Mithun and Arvind has eased the pressure on Vinay significantly. “Now, the workload is shared around a lot more and batsmen can hardly afford to relax even when one or both of us is off the attack. Also, each of us brings something different to the table.”
Vinay’s greatest strength, apart from his never-say-die attitude and his excellent control, is the ability to take the ball away from the right-hander. Mithun, wiry and lethal, brings the ball into the right-handers at great pace and gets the ball to climb off a length while Arvind’s left-arm over provides a whole new angle that he sometimes changes up by going round the stumps and getting the ball to straighten.
“I am extremely thankful to (physio) Muthu for getting me back in shape to play cricket. I had damaged ligaments in the right knee and was unsure if I would play again,” Arvind reveals. “It has been a dream season.”
Not yet, though. There is the little matter of the title clash, against Mumbai from Monday. “Eventually, it’s just another match,” Vinay observes, sagely. “That’s the attitude you must carry, and that’s what we did during the quarters and the semis. There’s no point getting worked up over the fact that it’s the final. Mumbai are a good side, they have had success, but league match or final, a good ball is a good ball.”
There have been several good balls already this season; a few more from his strike force, and there is no reason why Robin Uthappa should not be holding the Ranji Trophy aloft, come Friday.