R Vinay Kumar hasn't yet given up on his dream of playing for India again, four years after his last international appearance. The ghosts of that match still linger when his international career is discussed: on a flat pitch at his home ground, the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru against Australia, Vinay was battered for 102 runs, the second-most expensive nine-over returns in ODIs.
Opportunities since have been scant. He was part of the squad for home series against West Indies later that year, and travelled to Bangladesh in 2014, but did not make the XI. Vinay is at peace with his position, realising the competition among pacers in the national side, but is firm in the pursuit of his ambition. At 33, he is working harder than ever on keeping himself fit and has learned to be smarter about his bowling workload. "I'm matured enough to understand my situation. If I'm 21 or 22, then it (being out of the India team) may be very difficult to digest," he told ESPNcricinfo.
Vinay has learned to count every chance he gets as a blessing. He has had the right kind of people around to guide him, like Sachin Tendulkar, his mentor at Mumbai Indians, who impressed on him the importance of remembering the love for the game that he started out with in the first place.
"Bowlers are always happy to take five wickets. I'm the kind of bowler, who when a partnership needs to be broken, I'll be happy to come in and get a wicket. That's like getting five wickets for me. These small moments are what I enjoy very much. Breaking partnerships is a huge achievement for me. Indian team is always at the back of my mind, but I try to seek happiness from such small things and it makes me work harder on my game."
The time out of the Indian team has not affected his domestic impact. In the last four seasons, Vinay has been among Karnataka's top two wicket-takers in three of them. He captained them to six domestic titles in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. This year, he has already taken 13 wickets in three matches at 15.46, including a six-for against Maharashtra. With over 400 first-class wickets at an average of 23, Vinay has been a powerhouse performer in first-class cricket. His 369 wickets in the Ranji Trophy make him the highest wicket-taker among pace bowlers in the history of the tournament.
"Last three years, I got two awards from BCCI: best bowler award (highest wicket-taker in 2014-15 Ranji Trophy) and best allrounder award (in limited-overs cricket in 2013-14). Performance-wise, I don't have any doubt that I can come back into the Indian side, but I need to wait for an opportunity.
"There are two ways of looking at it - one, get frustrated and try to do something that you're not used to, or second is to keep it simple and keep doing what you have been, try to enjoy your cricket and whenever you get the opportunity, try to perform and raise your goals a little higher. You may or may not reach the goal, but that kind of challenges and motivates you to go out and perform. At the end of the day, when I go back to my room, I should be happy about the way I bowled. That feel-good factor is very important for me."
"I'm the kind of bowler, who when a partnership needs to be broken, I'll be happy to come in and get a wicket. That's like getting five wickets for me."
After his performance in that Bengaluru ODI, the fact that he was the highest wicket-taker among pace bowlers from either side went largely unnoticed. "Yes, I conceded 100 runs. There are many bowlers who have conceded 100-plus runs, but I am the only such bowler, whose team won after it happened. Nowadays, cricket has changed, and in future you might see many bowlers go for 100 runs. Especially now, with the bowing and batting Powerplays, things won't always go in your favour, but that's fine."
The seeds for Vinay's Karnataka career were sown when he was spotted as a 16-year old by B Siddaramu (their current manager) and YB Patel, the brother of Brijesh Patel, who were selectors for the Tumkur zone. Vinay, who hails from Davanagere, rose quickly to the state Under-16s. A successful season in the fifth-division league with Neptune Cricket Club in Bengaluru earned him a promotion straight to first division the next year before he broke into the senior state team.
"YB Patel sir used to like me so much and always encouraged me. He asked me not to get distracted because coming from a rural area, to suddenly see the city life in Bangalore, it may get into your head and give you a feeling of already having achieved something. When I got selected for Ranji, then too he asked me to keep my ears and eyes open, and my mouth closed and just play cricket. Even with captaincy, KSCA gave me liberty to take my own decisions. As captain, many of the decisions you take are spontaneous. What you do may or may not work, but if you don't get support from the association, it's difficult for you to take independent decisions. If not for that support, it wouldn't have shaped me into who I am today.
"Today, whatever I am is because of Karnataka cricket. It's now my turn to give back to them in any way I can, be it bowling or batting, fielding or just even passing through my experience to the youngsters. That is why being out of the India side perhaps doesn't hurt me much.
"And, of course, I have been playing IPL for the last 10 years, so financially I'm settled. I don't have any regrets about not getting opportunities. I would love to come back to Indian team and I definitely will."