New kid on the fast bowler's block April 1, 2005

VRV horsepower

VRV Singh does his thing © Cricinfo
It wasn't a common sight in Indian domestic cricket and watching it gave one a unique thrill. One of the most refreshing sights on the first two days of the Ranji Trophy final, between Punjab and Railways at Mohali, was a 20-year-old fast bowler steaming in and troubling batsman after batsman not with swing or seam but with sheer pace. Vikram Rajvir Singh or simply VRV, as everyone here calls him, is a fresh burst of energy in a country teeming with workhorse medium pacers.

This is VRV's debut first-class season but batsmen around the country have already begun the chatter. Not because of the 28 wickets in five games, including a ten-wicket haul, but because of an extra dimension that he possesses compared to the rest - pace. Put Parthiv Patel's face on Zaheer Khan's body, add a couple of more inches in height, lengthen the run-up by a few yards, run in with a rhythmic action that gathers momentum with every step - hands moving like efficient pistons - deliver with an open-chested action and let out a mighty groan when the ball whizzes past the batsman's shoulder and you have done a perfect imitation of VRV's routine.

Line and length are sometimes optional but he will he never compromise on speed. Speak to him and he drops words like "pace", "speed" and "fast" with an occasional mention of "swing". On the first day, with the sun beating down, with the pitch easing out, with the batsmen dominating, with the spinners releasing the pressure at the other end, VRV ran in with all his fury. The hotter it got, the faster he bowled. On the second day, he dug some in short and surprised batsmen who were well set and scoring freely. He caught the splice of the bat regularly, induced three chances - all of which were fluffed. He cussed away, shook his head, shouted out loud - and thundered in faster. He finished with figures of 1 for 79 in 23 overs and successfully proved how the scoreboard can be a proverbial ass.

Batsmen around the country know better. Tamil Nadu's strong batting line-up floundered against him. And VVS Laxman, who saw him torment the rest of the Hyderabad batsmen, was surprised that such a talented bowler wasn't picked in the North Zone Duleep Trophy squad.

Of all the Indian first-class bowlers Intikhab Alam, Punjab's coach, has seen, he reckons VRV is the fastest. Bhupinder Singh Sr, Punjab's former coach, says, "All he wants to do is bowl fast," he says, "nothing else matters to him." Sukhvinder Bawa, his coach since he was six, talks about the days when VRV came back from a game and felt disappointed because he hadn't injured enough batsmen. "When you can bowl with such pace, why spoil the boy with over-coaching?" Sukhvinder, who also coached Yuvraj Singh, asks. "Control can be developed over time but at this age he has to be allowed to bowl as fast as he can."

Now begins the tough part. Munaf Patel appeared two years back and made an instant impression by bowling quick before disappearing into the injury maze. Sandeep Patil, his India A coach, felt that the problem was as much mental as physical. VRV has to guard against those two evils - injury and mental meandering. He is also fortunate to have an excellent support system backing him: Alam's experience with several faster bowlers with madder streaks, and Punjab's brilliant academies to revert to the basics in case he goes through a lean phase.

He isn't the finished article and will have to first find a place in the North Zone squad. He will need to have another consistent season and crank up this pace. He will need to stay fit and regularly bowl under searing conditions, on thankless pitches, against high-quality batsmen. Swing and seam need to come naturally. If he manages all - and the start is highly promising - the term Indian fast bowler might no more be an oxymoron.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Cricinfo.