In 2001 Virender Sehwag was a middle-order batsman, S Badrinath was in his debut season, Robin Singh snr and Robin Singh jnr were still playing, Tamil Nadu were a force in the Ranji Trophy, and S Vidyut was a No. 11 batsman. In March that year Vidyut, then a left-arm spinner who could bat, was about to play a career-defining knock.
In the pre quarter-final, he walked in to join MR Shrinivas at 434 for 9. Seventeen fours and three sixes later when he left, Delhi were under the cosh, and he had scored his first first-class century - 115 off 122 balls. Four seasons after having become the first No. 11 to score a century in Ranji Trophy, he scored one from No. 1 - against Hyderabad. In between he scored a century for Haryana in the one season he played for them before rejoining Tamil Nadu.
Three lean seasons followed: he didn't cross 42 during that time, and was used sparingly as a bowler. Against Karnataka, last week, he came in at 51 for 3, with Badrinath and Dinesh Karthik back in the hut, and debutant Arun Karthik for company. In an exhibition of responsible defence followed by clean hitting, Vidyut punished the Karnataka bowers and scored 193 to put Tamil Nadu on the way to three points.
He is still to cement a place in the middle order, but has finally done something substantial to live up to the promise he showed in the walloping 87 he scored alongside Sachin Tendulkar in the 2005-06 Challenger Trophy final. Vidyut traces the transition from being an unsure left-arm spinner to becoming an important middle-order batsman to that Delhi hundred. "It was a very important knock for me," he said. "I started as a bowler who could bat, but that knock gave me the confidence I could bat. You want to do well at a high level, and Delhi was a good side."
It was not a surprise for Vidyut that he was sent in at No. 11. For his clubs, he had not batted higher than Nos. 7 or 8. But after that hundred, VB Chandrasekhar, former national selector, pushed him to open the innings. "VB made me open for club where I started getting lot of 50s and 60s and a few hundreds. That gave me a lot of confidence facing the new ball."
The adjustment he had to make was big, as others who have done so will testify. "Opening and batting in the middle order are different ball games altogether," he said. "As an opener, you go in straight away. As a middle-order batsman, you have to wait. So you have to learn to relax and not stay intense throughout. The new ball comes on, you can play shots right away. The old ball is difficult to play, and you might have spinners on immediately. But it feels good to do well at both."
The improvement in batting has helped him immensely in his career. By his own admission, the captains were reluctant to use him as a stock bowler, giving him one or two overs before breaks in play. There had to be some way to justify his place in the side. "I was bowling well, but not getting enough opportunities," he says. "For two years I didn't get any bowling at all, so I started working on my batting. For some time it was difficult for me.
"I don't know how and why [ bowling took a back seat]. I took it in my stride. I didn't worry much. Maybe if I was not good at my batting, I would have concentrated much more on my bowling."
But that middle period was difficult, when he didn't get runs and didn't get to bowl much. "The one part of the game I needed to improve was to bat time and bat long," he said. "Raman [WV, Tamil Nadu's coach] has been telling me to bat for time, not look at the scoreboard. With my kind of game, if I bat for long enough, runs will automatically come. Sometimes when you keep looking at the scoreboard you get bogged down. I have really been trying to bat long, and trying to get big scores."
In that scheme of things, 193 will go a long way in establishing him in the Tamil Nadu middle order. "We had lost Dinesh, Badri and Abhinav [Mukund, the opener]. It was very important for me to bat long. I am happy I didn't let my team down." He put this innings alongside the 87 in Challenger Trophy, and the 158 he scored against Central Zone in a Deodhar Trophy match in 2005-06.
He will know that an average of 35 from 44 first-class matches is not great. He will also know that now that he has found a somewhat stable place in the team, at 26, he has enough time to make up for it.