November 6, 2013

Spare a thought for Vinay Kumar

Having suffered against belligerent batsmen at the club level, the writer empathises with a bowler who conceded 102 runs in nine overs

Vinay Kumar might have felt the Chinnaswamy Stadium was the loneliest place on earth © BCCI

Cricket, like any other sport, provides the stage for its players to put on performances that push the boundaries of what was thought to be possible. But the very best can sometimes go hand in hand with the very worst. When South Africa successfully chased 434 runs against Australia in 2006, that remarkable chase expanded possibilities, while also providing us a piece of trivia in Mick Lewis, who had the worst returns in the history of ODIs.

Poor Vinay Kumar almost pulled a Mick Lewis last week. He is now the new owner of a shiny fifth spot in the all-time list of ODI bowling ineptitude. If it is any consolation to him, he made only the greatest spinner the game has known vacate the spot for him.

I made a few wisecracks at his expense as his nightmare was unfolding (9-0-102-1), but it must have been so hard on him. Sure, he is not express fast, he was bowling to batsmen who were swinging at almost everything, and any error in length or line was summarily punished. The size of the Chinnaswamy Stadium didn't help either. Bowlers much more experienced than him, much faster than he ever could be, also feature on the list of expensive analyses, some of them multiple times, notably Lasith Malinga, Dale Steyn, James Anderson and Brett Lee.

I am aware of the all-encompassing darkness that he must have been shrouded in. It is a slippery slope. Once the confidence goes, it is extremely hard to get any semblance of control back. The top of the bowling mark feels like the loneliest place on the face of the earth, and you seem to have the weight of the world on your shoulders.

More than anything, it is the feeling of letting your mates down that eats away at you. You don't really want to bowl another delivery, and you just want the day to be over as soon as possible.

I am aware of the all-encompassing darkness that Vinay Kumar must have been shrouded in. It is a slippery slope. Once the confidence goes, it is extremely hard to get any semblance of control back

I used to open the bowling for my university club team in the US, and we travelled every weekend in the summer to cricket grounds in Maryland and Virginia to play weekend matches. My worst bowling performance came against a team called "Windies", primarily composed of gentlemen who were expats from Jamaica. Their opening batsman, Windell Thomas, a tall, bespectacled skinny wicketkeeper, ripped me apart as he opened the batting in chase of a huge score.

We were aware of Windell's excellence (he had scored a century against us in the previous season too) but the nonchalant ferocity with which he, in the company of their No. 3, Garry Philbert, a dreadlocked Jamaican, carried out the chase completely knocked me off my game. I went for 70 in seven overs without taking a wicket. In terms of the international game, that kind of economy rate would place me right between the legend that is Ajit Agarkar and Nuwan Zoysa.

It was a regular season league game on the outskirts of Washington DC during the summer of 2005. After a slow start, my university team, which featured a former India U-15 player, Maninder Singh Bola, began to build momentum towards a big total. These are 40-over games, and generally 160 is a pretty good score. Since this match was in a smaller ground - one of the side boundaries couldn't have been more than 60 yards away - our estimation was that 200 would put us in a good place to beat the team that had creamed us the previous season. When Maninder finished unbeaten on 120-odd in a total of about 250, we felt we had the game in the bag. Oops!

When I came on to bowl, everything I tried did not work. I tried to bowl full, and was hit over the top to the straight boundary. I tried to bowl short and was pulled to the short square boundaries. I tried a few offcutters, which only sat up for Windell and Garry to place where they pleased. I took myself out of the attack to come back later, only for the beat-down to continue where it had left off.

I was defeated at the end of my miserable seven overs (one short of the maximum allowed per bowler), with the guilt of letting my team-mates down, especially after the wonderful century by Maninder, eroding me on the insides. I tried to put on a shrug-the-shoulders façade, as if to say, "It wasn't my day, and it happens." Luckily for me, I got an opportunity later in the season when I had the ball in my hand to take the final wicket in the defence of a small total, and I came through for my team.

Mick Lewis played his last game for Australia when he gave away those 113 runs in that 434-game. I sincerely hope that this isn't the last time Vinay Kumar dons the India colours. After all, he was the leading wicket-taker for India in the 2011-12 Commonwealth Bank tri-series, and the fact that the World Cup, in 14 months, is in Australia and New Zealand, could mean he might just be kept around the team. He may not be the most celebrated bowler around but this would be a horrible way to go out for any international cricketer.

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