Spare a thought for Vinay Kumar

A version of this post was first published on ESPN CRicinfo’s Cordon Blog.

Cricket, like any other sporting contest, provides the stage for its players to put on performances that push the boundaries of what was thought to be possible but it has two sides. The very best can sometimes go hand in hand with the very worst. When South Africa successfully chased 434 runs against Australia in 2006, that remarkable chase expanded the possibilities, while also providing us a piece of trivia in Mick Lewis who had the worst returns in the history of limited overs game.

Poor Vinay Kumar he almost pulled a Mick Lewis. He is now the new owner of a shiny fifth spot in the all time list of ODI bowling ineptitude. If it is any consolation to him, he just made only the greatest spinner the game has known vacate the spot for him.

I made a few wisecracks at him as his nightmare was unfolding (9-0-102-1) but it must have been so hard on him. Sure, he is not express fast, he was bowling to batsmen who were swinging at almost everything and any error in length or line was summarily punished, and the smaller size of the Chinnaswamy Stadium didn’t help either. Bowlers much more experienced than he, much faster than he ever could be also feature in that list; some of them multiple times, notably Lasith Malinga, Dale Steyn, James Anderson and Brett Lee.

Even though I had few moments of mirth at Vinay Kumar’s cost, I am aware of the all-compassing darkness that he must have been shrouded in. It is a slippery slope. Once the confidence goes, it is extremely hard to get any semblance of control back. The top of the bowling mark feels like the loneliest place on the face of the earth, with the weight of the world on your shoulders. More than anything, it is the feeling of letting your mates down that eats away at you. You don’t really want to bowl another delivery and you just want the day to get over as soon as it can. In Vinay Kumar’s case, he must have also felt the 40,000 pairs of eyes shooting daggers at him, not to mention the millions more from their homes.

I used to open the bowling for my university club team in the U.S. and we travelled every weekend in the summer to cricket grounds in Maryland and Virginia to play weekend matches. My worst bowling performance came against a team called the Windies, primarily made of gentlemen who were expats from Jamaica. It was their opening batsman, Windell Thomas, a tall, bespectacled skinny wicket keeper who ripped me apart as he opened their batting in chase of a huge score. We were aware of Windell’s excellence (he scored a century against us in the previous season too) but the nonchalant ferocity with which he, in company of their number 3, Garry Philbert, a dreadlocked Jamaican, carried out the chase that completely knocked me off my game. I went for 70 in 7 overs without taking a wicket. In terms of the international game, that kind of economy rate would place me right between the legend that is Ajit Agarkar and Nuwan Zoysa.

It was a regular season league game on the outskirts of Washington D.C. during the summer of 2005. After a slow start, my university team, which featured a former India U-15 player, began to build the momentum towards a big total. These are 40 over games and generally, 160 is a pretty good score. Since this match was in a smaller ground – one of the side boundaries couldn’t have been more than 60 yards away – our estimation was that 200 would put us in a good place to beat the team that had creamed us the past season. When Maninder finished unbeaten on 120-odd in a total of about 250 runs, we felt we had the game in the bag. Oops!

Everything I tried did not work. I tried to bowl full, and was hit over the top to the straight boundary. I tried to bowl short and was pulled to the short square boundaries. I tried a few off cutters, which only sat up for Windell and Garry to place it where they pleased. I took myself out of the attack to come back later, only for the beat down to continue where it was left off. I was defeated at the end of my miserable spell of 7 overs (1 short of maximum allowed 8) with the guilt of letting my teammates down and especially a wonderful century by Maninder, eroding me on the inside. I tried to put on a shrug-the-shoulders façade as if to say, “It wasn’t my day, and it happens”. Lucky for me, I got an opportunity later in the season when I had the ball in my hand to take the final wicket in the defense of a small total, and I came through for my team.

Mick Lewis played his last game for Australia when he gave away those 113 runs in that 434-game. I sincerely hope that this isn’t the last time Vinay Kumar dons the India colours. After all, he was the leading wicket taker for India in the 2012 Commonwealth Bank Tri Series, and the fact that the world cup is in 14 months in Australia/New Zealand, could mean he might just be kept around the team. He may not be a celebrated bowler around but this would be a horrible way to go out for any international cricketer.

Vinay Kumar Picture from Cricketssports.com

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