Back in late 2018, the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) announced the Ranji Trophy probables for the 2018-19 season. Just as thousands of Karnataka cricket fans celebrated the return of some big names to the roster, elsewhere in Bengaluru, young pacer Vyshak Vijaykumar was heartbroken.
A little more than three years after picking up the Man of the Match award in the 2015 Karnataka Premier League (KPL) final, Vyshak still couldn't break into the senior squad despite a string of impressive performances.
Little did he know, though, that his heartbreak on that very day would be life-changing. In some sense, it would also add direction to his goal of representing the senior state team.
As a young boy, he was always considered a few 10s of kilos more than what was considered healthy. In fact, until December 2019, the speedster weighed 104 kilos. This impeded his selection despite him turning heads with impressive shifts during his maiden KPL season in 2015.
"In the 2015 final, I was the man of the final. From then on people started saying I would have a breakthrough into the senior team. But every year when the announcement was made, they told me the same thing, that I was not fit. Everyone saw the outer me," the pacer recalls.
Time and again, he looked hopefully at each new selection list, only to have a painful sense of déjà-Vu. Despite donning the state jersey from the U-14 level and even captaining Karnataka at the U-16 level, Vyshak somehow missed the bus.
"I saw the list of the Ranji Trophy probables and I was not selected. I asked everyone what the problem was, if it was my bowling or something else. They all said it was a problem with my fitness. Everyone told me I had to get fitter for my own good, but I didn’t take it too seriously," Vyshak told Sportskeeda in an exclusive chat.
Finally, exhausted and frustrated, Vijaykumar decided to take matters into his own hands. From 104 kilos in April 2019 to 78 kilos in December 2020, the youngster's strides towards a fitter, stronger lifestyle have now strengthened his chances of making the senior side.
In a little over 1.5 years, Vyshak has not only left his followers gaping in awe; he silenced his critics in telling fashion.
Tête-à-tête with Mitchell Johnson during KPL 2018
For a youngster keen on attracting the attention of his state selectors and the IPL scouts, Vyshak was ready to pour his blood, sweat, and tears into the KPL.
So much so that he battled a side strain throughout the 2017 edition of the competition. But the injury hampered his natural bowling style, forcing him to jump outwards and spray the ball all over the place.
A year later, a serendipitous 30-minute interaction with former Australian speedster Mitchell Johnson helped Vyshak channel his inner demons and get his ducks in a row.
"During the 2018 KPL, I spent half an hour with Mitchell Johnson in his hotel room. That time I was very heavy, he told me how fitness was very important. He told me to make some corrections in my bowling action, I used to bowl from very wide of the crease. I worked on getting closer to the stumps,"
The 23-year-old also recollects some words of advice from another Australian legend, Brett Lee, who was a commentator during a KPL season.
"I met Brett Lee too, and he told me the same thing. Both of them were very sweet. They showed me how I needed to practice, keep cones and jump straight. After I started training, I began to understand how important fitness, gym, recovery is. I wasn’t doing anything despite constantly being scolded by everyone; I’d be quiet. With age, I’m now understanding everything (laughs),"
18 months of toiling hard yields positive results
It took young Vyshak quite some time to get into the mould of working hard for his own good, but an introduction to Sri Ayyappa - one of Karnataka's most renowned athletics coaches - changed the pacer's outlook to fitness.
Vyshak recalls making up his mind to work on "needing to look better" in December 2018 after being overlooked yet again for the list of probables.
"I didn't have a target in mind (On being asked if he wanted to lose a certain number of kilos). I just didn't want people to call me fat. I joined Ayyappa sir, he helped a lot. I would go to the Kanteerva Stadium everyday. When I was with him, he made me run a lot.”
Now, a year after taking up fitness drills to get himself into the reckoning for the state team, Vyshak is enjoying the added benefits of shedding almost 25 kilos of weight.
"After losing weight, I’ve been bowling quicker. Even my fielding has improved. Earlier people would say, “Okay let’s hit the ball to him, he’ll misfield and we can take runs,” but now that I'm fit, people don't want to take me on."
Vyshak keen to break into the senior state team
Now that he's bowling quicker and looks a lot fitter than before, Vyshak is eyeing a spot in the Karnataka senior side, a dream he's harboured since his KPL debut back in 2015.
For the last few months, Vyshak's hard yards, under the tutelage of KSCA trainer Rakshith and a few other established coaches, are helping him take larger strides towards realising his dream.
"For now, I want to get more fitter. I am still on the heavier side, I want to cut down 3-4 more kg of fat weight. I want to get consistent with my areas while bowling, that’s what (Sreenath) Arvind Sir, Yere (Goud) Sir, Chaitra Sir and Deepak Chougule Sir tell me. As a goal, I want to make the senior team. If I do well in the SMAT20, I feel I've got a good chance of playing in the IPL. It’s a long way, but one day at a time,"
For those who've followed the KPL for quite some time now, they'll be familiar with what Vyshak brings to the table. The pacer's taken 62 wickets from 41 matches in the cash-rich league, and more often than not, he's troubled the best of batsmen with his searing pace.
Given his exploits in the KPL, where he’s a household name, it’s only a matter of time before Vyshak earns a spot in Karnataka's senior side.
With the Syed Mushtaq Ali competition less than a month away and the IPL set to follow a few months later, Vyshak's wait for a breakthrough season might not be too far away.Published 23 Dec 2020, 09:55 IST