On a Chepauk turner
, where 21 of 31 wickets have fallen to spin so far, Vyshak Vijaykumar
turned out to be the point of difference between the Tamil Nadu and Karnataka bowling attacks with his hit-the-deck hustle and ability to generate reverse-swing. He also made a strong impression with the new ball by removing N Jagadeesan, the second-highest run-getter in this Ranji season, in front of Ajit Agarkar, India's chief selector, on a track that offered precious little to the seamers.
Vyshak secured a 215-run first-innings lead for Karnataka by ripping out M Mohammed, Ajith Ram and B Indrajith, Tamil Nadu's top-scorer, in successive overs on the third morning. Vyshak hit an in-between length and found reverse-swing to wipe out Tamil Nadu's lower order and dismiss them for 151, in response to Karnataka's 366.
"On this surface when I tried to reverse the ball, it was doing something," Vyshak said after the third day's play. "We spoke about it before we entered because it was a red-soil wicket. So, we knew that the ball was going to reverse. It was obviously hard for the fast bowlers. Our plan was simple: we had to keep it under two runs an over."
While V Kaverappa bowled with immaculate control - he finished with first-innings figures of 16-8-14-1 - Vyshak kept banging the ball into an in-between length. It is for this trait that Karnataka picked Vyshak over V Koushik, who is more of a swing bowler, for the game against Tamil Nadu.
"I've been bowling short spells; so, the captain has been kind," Vyshak said. "It's very hot [In Chennai]. [To bowl] in the first and second session is very hard. It eases out a bit in the third session, but the first two spells...we always spoke about going all out with the three-four overs."
Vyshak's old-ball spell, in particular, was a throwback to the shifts of Abhimanyu Mithun
, who used to be Karnataka's enforcer when he operated along with Vinay Kumar or Sreenath Aravind. Vyshak has been training with Mithun in recent years to become a more versatile bowler.
"Yes, he's a legend," Vyshak said of Mithun. "Mithun, Vinay have done this for a very long time. So, I've worked with Mithun for more than a year. He's told me what to do when the wicket is not helping [me]. He's also told me what not to do."
So, what exactly was Mithun's advice to Vyshak? "It was simple: if there's no help from the pitch, we have to bend our backs even more and hit the length even better. We shouldn't give runs and make it easy for batsmen. Yes, it's a flat wicket for a fast bowler, but the plan is just to keep it on the right length."
"If there's no help from the pitch, we have to bend our backs even more and hit the length even better. We shouldn't give runs and make it easy for batsmen."
Vyshak Vijaykumar on Abhimanyu Mithun's advice
Vyshak has also contributed handsomely with the bat in this Ranji season. During his Under-16 days, Vyshak was primarily a batter, but somewhere along the way, he lost confidence in that skill. But he has regained that confidence now, having scored 183 runs in ten innings in 2023-24. The tally includes a maiden half-century against Tripura in Agartala
. Against Tamil Nadu, he took on their spinners and came away as the only Karnataka batter to have cleared the boundary in their second innings.
"The confidence was lacking in my batting this year. Mayank and Manish [Pandey] helped me a lot during the break, which I had before the Vijay Hazare or Syed Mushtaq Ali [Trophy]. That's when I thought I should bat freely because last year I was just trying to defend. This year I wanted to bat freely."
That Karnataka are in a dominant position against Tamil Nadu is also down to Hardik Raj
's all-round efforts. The 17-year-old, who bowls left-arm fingerspin, has made a seamless transition from age-group tournaments to the Ranji Trophy. Raj made a fifty in Karnataka's first innings and then took out two left-handers - R Vimal Khumar and R Sai Kishore. Vyshak, who captains Raj at Gulbarga Mystics in the Maharaja T20 tournament, was enthused by the teenager's progress.
"As a kid when we picked him, we didn't know who he was but then when I saw him in the nets I thought 'this boy is special' because it's the confidence that has got him here," Vyshak said. "He dives around in the ground while fielding and even with batting or bowling, he wants to give everything to the team. So, when it comes to a youngster, that is what you look at. If you have someone like him in a team, you don't need anyone else."
Both Vyshak and Raj will have an even bigger role to play on Monday if Karnataka are to grab six points and climb up to the top of Group C in the Elite table
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo