From being ignored at auction to dream debut - how Vijaykumar Vyshak broke into IPL
After impressing du Plessis at the nets, he went on to dismiss Warner with a knuckle ball in his first over
Vyshak: Dream to be playing for RCBThe quick talks about not being picked at the auction, his experience bowling to Kohli, du Plessis and more
Royal Challengers Bangalore didn't name a replacement immediately when Rajat Patidar was ruled out of IPL 2023. When they eventually named one, it was 26-year-old Karnataka seamer Vijaykumar Vyshak. Signing an uncapped fast bowler for a key batter surprised many on the outside, but Royal Challengers knew what they were doing.
Vyshak was the joint fifth-highest wicket-taker in the recent Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, picking up 15 wickets from eight games at an economy rate of 6.31. Still, no IPL side showed interest in him at the mini-auction in December.
"My name didn't even come up," Vyshak recalled on Saturday. "I was really disappointed because I had done well in the Mushtaq Ali [Trophy]."
But he didn't let the disappointment affect his game. In the Ranji Trophy that followed soon after, he was the joint-highest wicket-taker for Karnataka with 31 scalps at an average of 24.58. During this time, Royal Challengers also asked him to join them as a net bowler, starting with their pre-season camp.
"When they called me, I wanted to express myself," he said. "I wanted to find out if I belonged there. I was bowling to Virat [Kohli] bhai, Faf [du Plessis], all the best batsmen in the world. So I just wanted to know if I actually deserved to be there."
To Royal Challengers' credit, they gave him ample opportunities in the nets and practice matches. To Vyshak's credit, he grabbed them with both hands.
"We noticed him during a warm-up game," Faf du Plessis, the Royal Challengers captain, recalled in a video released by the franchise. "I was batting really nicely that evening, but when he came on to bowl, I was like this guy is difficult to pick with all his slower balls. As a first step, I thought, maybe we sign him."
Du Plessis would later have a hand in Vyshak's maiden IPL wicket too.
A day before the match against Delhi Capitals, Royal Challengers' head coach Sanjay Bangar and director of cricket Mike Hesson had a chat with Vyshak.
"They called me for a meeting at around 6.30pm. They asked me a few questions, the normal talk, getting to know each other. After that, they asked, 'If we say you are going to debut tomorrow, how would you feel?'
"I was speechless. As a local boy, from the time the IPL started, it was always a dream to play for RCB. I used to come here, sit in the stands, watch the game, and think, 'When will I be there [in the middle]?'"
Vyshak was so nervous he "couldn't sleep at all" that night. In the morning, he was told to be ready to bowl one over in the powerplay and then in the middle phase.
Debutant Vyshak's variations impress Ian BishopThe RCB fast bowler showed off his knuckle-ball and changed his pace at the right times against Delhi Capitals
Batting first, Royal Challengers posted 174 for 6. In response, Capitals lost three early wickets, and by the time du Plessis brought Vyshak on, for the sixth over of the innings, Royal Challengers were right on top.
"I had prepared myself mentally," Vyshak said, "but it was the first time I was playing in front of 40,000 people. For the first couple of balls, I was very nervous."
In T20 cricket, the sixth over is considered among the toughest to bowl, as batters are looking to score as many runs as possible before the fielding restrictions are lifted. Capitals' captain David Warner was trying to do just the same. In the previous over, had hit Mohammed Siraj for three successive boundaries, and he picked up one more off Vyshak's third ball.
When the bowler was getting ready for the next ball, du Plessis asked him to bowl a slower one. Vyshak obliged with a knuckle ball at 120.6kph, almost 17kph slower than the boundary ball. Warner failed to spot it and ended up playing the pull so early that the ball hit the bottom of the bat and went into the hands of short midwicket.
Vyshak was elated to dismiss "one of the greatest batsmen in the world" for his first IPL wicket. His next two wickets - Axar Patel and Lalit Yadav - also came via the knuckle ball. He finished with figures of 3 for 20 as Royal Challengers won by 23 runs. As per ESPNcricinfo's Smart Stats, his contribution towards the win was second only to Virat Kohli's 34-ball 50.
"The way he was bowling at the nets," du Plessis said, "we felt he was something different with all his change-ups. But obviously no one expected him to be this good, he bowled unbelievably tonight."
Vyshak's team-mates were not the only ones who were impressed. The subtlety with which he bowled his knuckle ball made an impression on everyone from Ian Bishop to Kevin Pietersen.
"I have been working on it for two years, and I think it finally paid off," he would say after the game. But don't mistake him for a one-trick pony. He can consistently bowl around 135kph, and has a good bouncer too.
Coming into the game against Capitals, Royal Challengers were the most incisive and most economical bowling unit in the powerplay in IPL 2023. However, they were giving away far too many runs - at 11 an over - in the middle phase. Kolkata Knight Riders were the next worse with 8.82.
Royal Challengers were aware of it. And they believe they have found a potential solution in Vyshak.
"That's great signs for us," du Plessis said, "adding something different, especially in the middle overs - something we felt like we wanted to improve on; we had leaked a lot of runs from overs seven to 12 in our first three games."
After Vyshak's excellent debut, the opponents will be better prepared. At the same time, Vyshak will be also more confident. What needs to be seen is if he can exceed his captain's expectations again.
Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo