Vinay Kumar is a forgotten figure in Indian cricket. Since being plundered for 102 runs in nine overs by the Aussies in a Bengaluru One-Day International (ODI) in 2013, he hasn't played for India. The emergence of a fresh crop of quick bowlers has also put his name under wraps. His Test debut, also against Australia, in 2012 was not memorable either, with Wasim Akram saying he was "disappointed" to see Vinay bowl in mid-120s.
On Thursday, he managed to clean up the dust off his name and stand out for Karnataka in their quarter-final match against Mumbai.
The Karnataka skipper and opening bowler, Vinay, delivered a scintillating opening spell that reduced Mumbai to 7/3 and gave him a hat-trick within the first 14 balls of the game.
There is a thing about Ranji cricket and performing against Mumbai. They have won the trophy a record 41 times including a streak of 15 successive wins from 1958-59 to 1972-73. The cream of India's Test players over the years have all come from Mumbai. Performing well against them is akin to knocking down the selectors doors and getting them a cup of coffee.
Vinay did just that on a Nagpur surface which was supposed to weave magic for the seam bowlers when India played Sri Lanka in the second Test last week.
Instead, the green tinge of the surface and moisture underneath started revealing itself right at the perfect time for Vinay Kumar, who is a master at exploiting such conditions.
What unfolded next was an exhibition of seam bowling of the highest quality.
Over 0.6 - Vinay Kumar to Prithvi Shaw
The glam boy of the current Mumbai side, Prithvi Shaw, was undone by a delivery that seamed away after pitching a tad outside off-stump. Instead of leaving it alone, Shaw had a defensive push at it with little feet movement and the resultant edge carried to first slip.
Over 2.1 - Vinay Kumar to Jay Bista
This was an almost identical dismissal to Shaw’s. Bista prodded outside the off-stump and the edge flew to Karun Nair at first slip, who nearly messed up the chance thinking that the keeper would go for it.
Over 2.2 - Vinay Kumar to Akash Parkar
This was probably the best of the lot. Though Parkar isn’t a proper batsman (why was a fast bowler with a total of 94 first-class runs sent in at No 4 is a discussion for another day), most would have been done in by Vinay’s niggardly line and exemplary control. He barely waited for the umpire's decision after the ball struck his pads before celebrating the hat-trick.
Vinay’s stupendous feat was the fastest hat-trick in Ranji Trophy history. Mix in the fact that this was his second hat-trick in Ranji Trophy and that he was playing his 100th first-class game for Karnataka and you have a domestic giant who hasn't quite taken the next step to international cricket.
There have only been a total of six hat-tricks in the knockout stages of Ranji Trophy with the last one coming in 1993-94. There are also only four players with two or more hat-tricks in Ranji cricket.
The 120kmph seamer is now Karnataka's third highest wicket-taker ever going past Erapalli Prasanna’s tally (370) during Day 1 of the quarter-final match. Overall, Vinay Kumar has 432 wickets in first-class cricket.
During the last few seasons, Vinay has been a delight to watch. He led the side to six domestic titles between 2013 and 2015, making his presence felt with big numbers in the wickets column. In the 2014-15 season he topped the charts alongside Shardul Thakur with 48 scalps in 10 games.
This season he has 20 wickets in 7 games at an average of 17.20. His tally of 370 Ranji wickets is the best for any fast bowler in the history of the tournament. Take a moment to soak in that fact. In a country that has had the likes of Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Zaheer Khan plying their trade in domestic cricket, Vinay Kumar is the highest pace-bowling wicket-taker in Ranji cricket.
Yet, he hasn't got his due. His sole Test appearance ended on a disastrous note and his ODI performances are better not discussed. At 33, a comeback into the national side looks bleak but the determined Karnataka skipper feels there are two ways of looking at it.
"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”, he had revealed in a heart-to-heart interview to ESPNCricinfo.
Vinay Kumar's India stint might have been rather unsuccessful but it is probably also India’s folly that he wasn't used in the most ideal of conditions. Vinay's strength is seam movement and swing, and on pitches conducive to the same, the Karnataka skipper is a beast.
He may not rip through batting line-ups on the roads in Australia or the dust-bowls in India, but on wickets where it seams around like in Johannesburg or that Eden wicket laid out for the first Test against Sri Lanka, Vinay Kumar is more than a handful. Comparing him to Vernon Philander might be a tad far-fetched, but had India used him tactfully, he could have become something more than a domestic giant.
At this stage, with the country's captain and coach adamant on preferring pace over skills, Vinay's chances of a comeback are next to over. But as the saying goes, 'Never say Never’.
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