“Nina kai ali agala” (“You cannot do it” – in Kannada) – these were the exact words stated by Bangalore-based coach Ramana to Vyshak Vijaykumar, rookie player of Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in IPL 2023.
The 26-year-old was named as an injury replacement for Rajat Patidar and joined the Faf du Plessis-led 24-member RCB squad midway through the season. Vyshak soon earned his maiden IPL cap when RCB played against Delhi Capitals on April 15 on home turf at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Vyshak Vijaykumar, who hails from Bengaluru’s RR Nagar, was nervous while delivering the first couple of balls, according to the player’s own admission after the match. But the local lad held his nerves and claimed the important wickets of David Warner, Axar Patel, and Lalit Yadav to have figures of 3/20 from four overs, the best by an RCB bowler on his IPL debut.
Vyshak was keen on his batting during his U-17 cricket days but soon discovered that he could bowl fast. That wouldn’t have been possible without the constant teasing and taunts from Ramana to the youngster that he cannot become a fast bowler. According to Ramana, it was reverse psychology that worked in hindsight for his protege.
“See why I taunted him because he was the kind of bowler who could generate a natural (pace). There is something called reverse psychology where you can work with people, go to their place and taunt them which they don’t like. They should realise things. I taunt my students and that’s how I take out their best from them,” Ramana told Sportskeeda in an exclusive interview at the Basavanagudi Cricket Academy where Vyshak trained during his age-level cricket playing days.
“When I saw him, I knew he could grow. He was very fat (60-70 kg) and couldn’t run so I would tell him that if you want to become a fast bowler, then you need to lose weight and not while being bulky. He used to get tired a lot and that is when I started taunting him,” Ramana added.
The taunt certainly motivated Vyshak Vijaykumar to prove his coach wrong and he soon shifted his focus towards fast bowling. But obstacles didn’t leave his path as he moved with determination towards realizing his dreams.
Vyshak Vijaykumar’s struggles with weight and fitness issues
Despite clearing fitness tests on multiple occasions, the disapproval that he faced due to his physical appearance remained, and that made him jittery.
Vyshak’s friend Sudhindra Shinde, who played with him for Social Cricketers Club in Karnataka State Cricket Association’s (KSCA) first-division tournaments, revealed that Vyshak endured a Thyroid disorder. This made things difficult for the fast bowler to progress rapidly in cricket.
“I have seen him since he was 14. It’s been so long since we share a strong bond. I have seen his journey as a cricketer. I have seen his struggles and the roadbreaks for him especially in the last three or four years. People have questioned his fitness,” Sudhindra told Sportskeeda during a telephonic conversation.
“He has some thyroid thing where he kept on putting weight. His training was spot on and his diets were good. Because of thyroid he was looking chubby. So that put lot of it on his mind. He took some tablets at that point of time. He is looking for more diets and things that can improve. It’s all over for him now and behind him,” he added.
Another challenge was to make amendments to his bowling action after he was unable to reap the rewards of his hard work at one point. The opposition batters at club cricket level could easily intercept his bowling tactics and target him.
“There was no alignment in his action. He had suddenly lost it because he played so much cricket I think. His bowling action was the easiest, it came naturally. But suddenly when it fell apart, his bowling was not at its best so he had to work on his action. It was the biggest turning point in his career,” Sudhindra said.
Working with Abhimanyu Mithun
To overcome the issues with his bowling action, Vyshak Vijaykumar went to former India and Karnataka fast bowler Abhimanyu Mithun in 2021, to work both on his bowling and fitness. The two have shared a great bond since they first met while playing in the Karnataka Premier League (now known as Maharaja Trophy T20).
“I have known Vyshak from a very long time ago. When I used to play for RCB, he used to come as a net bowler. I have known him from a very long time. During KPL, we played with the same team and that’s when we started becoming so close,” Mithun, who also played 16 games for RCB in the IPL, said on his acquaintance with Vyshak.
“I could see the potential he had. If someone is really good, I like to help them. In the last few years, whenever I used to train, he would take the initiative to come with me. So it was good for me as I was also practicing and I told him that you can join me and we can work together. We started talking and got connected,” he added.
The first thing for Mithun was to assist Vyshak in reducing weight so that he can shun the noise about his fitness. It was starting to bog down the player’s career. The former India cricketer also discussed his junior colleague’s eating habits and drafted a diet plan accordingly.
Separate training sessions were prepared for the domestic season and the off-season. This was done so that the player didn’t lag behind in fitness during the six-month-long busy season.
What made this process smooth was Abhimanyu Mithun’s similar experiences in the early part of his career. Having faced similar issues, Mithun felt motivated to lend a helping hand to Vyshak.
“Small things we needed to work on was obviously his run-up and then he had to jump out. So he had a problem with it. Even I had the problem, I told him how I worked on it. He implemented it and it worked for him,” said Mithun.
Vyshak Vijaykumar has often credited Mithun for helping him develop the knuckle-ball, which he has turned into a potent weapon against the batters. It was the same delivery that got him the wicket of Axar Patel in the current IPL season. He also got the better of Lalit Yadav during the match against DC.
Speaking about the process of Vyshak mastering the knuckle-ball, Mithun said:
“Again it’s the strength (the knuckle-ball). So during the training you just don’t teach him how to bowl it but when to bowl, what length to bowl, and that’s it. He can execute it whenever he is confident.”
Vyshak holds the ball in his left hand and changes it to the left just before releasing it, a trick used by Zaheer Khan and Siddarth Kaul also when using this weapon. The RCB speedster can also bowl a good slower bouncer and yorker, and can bowl according to the situation.
He had a stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders as their net bowler in IPL 2022 and worked alongside assistant coach Abhishek Nayar. Once he returned from the KKR camp, changes in his approach were visible.
“After he went to Kolkata Knight Riders as a net bowler and came back, I saw a drastic change in him. It helped him and changed him a lot. He was agile (in his run-up), very quick, sharp, precise, and was aware of his limitations,” said coach Ramana.
Vyshak Vijaykumar’s rising success
Vyshak Vijaykumar marked his domestic debut for Karnataka in the Vijay Hazare Trophy in February 2021. Within a year, he was making a strong case for selection in the Ranji Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy teams for his home state.
The turning point for the Bengaluru boy came during the 2022-23 domestic season as he picked up 15 wickets at an average of 12.20 and an economy rate of 6.31 in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He was the second-highest wicket-taker for Karnataka behind Vidwath Kaverappa (18 wickets).
This was followed by a remarkable performance in the Ranji Trophy. In India’s premier first-class tournament, the young pacer accounted for 31 wickets in eight games to finish as Karnataka’s joint-highest wicket-taker, alongside seasoned campaigner Krishnappa Gowtham.
Even though he wasn’t initially picked in the mini-IPL auction held in December last year, the aforementioned achievements didn’t go unnoticed. The Karnataka pacer was signed by RCB for IPL 2023 following the news of top-order batter Rajat Patidar being ruled out of the season owing to a heel injury.
Vyshak’s father Vijaykumar currently works for the KSCA and was forced to leave his job at Hindustan Unilever to focus on his son’s cricket training. Mother Brunda Vijaykumar is still working at a private software firm at Kasturbha Road in Bengaluru.
The mother looked after the family’s financial well-being before Vyshak shot to prominence in his game. He is the only child of his parents and has a dream of seeing his mother retire from work and wants to provide her with a cosy life at home.
“He (Vyshak) has seen her struggle and always kept saying that I will make it big soon and the first thing I will do is tell my mother to stay home and want her to stay relaxed. I want her to have a relaxed life. He has seen the sacrifices she has made for him and that is the biggest driving factor. Because he is very close to his mother,” said Sudhindra.
Vyshak had a tough time when he was taken to the cleaners in RCB’s home game against CSK on April 17. He conceded 62 runs from four overs while taking the wicket of Ambati Rayudu in an eight-run loss for the hosts. This was the second most expensive spell by an RCB bowler, behind Josh Hazlewood‘s 0/64 vs PBKS in 2022.
“He is the kind of guy who loves big matches. Don’t think it can be better learning than this (CSK match). First game you have done great and the second game you have got this. You have seen both the experiences now. The only place is going up in terms of learning. I still feel he hasn’t used his full rapport and has a lot more in his bowling,” Sudhindra mentioned about the 26-year-old.
Vyshak has proven his coach Ramana (something Ramana is proud of) and everyone who had doubts about him wrong. He went from “Nina kai ali agala” to “Avara kai alli agithu” (He was able to do it).
Vyshak Vijaykumar has a long way to go in both his IPL 2023 and overall cricket journey. He will have many opportunities to show what he can achieve on the grand stage.
News Source: https://www.sportskeeda.com/amp/cricket/news-how-reverse-psychology-abhimanyu-mithun-helped-vyshak-vijaykumar-overcome-thyroid-issues-rcb-s-new-find