'Breathe in, breathe out', how AB de Villiers's words turned success mantra for Vishnu Vinod
KOCHI: It was an IPL game in 2017. Vishnu Vinod was batting with his biggest hero AB de Villiers for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Out of nervousness, perhaps, he tried a few manufactured shots to no effect. De Villiers went upto him and said, "Just breathe in and breathe out gently. You will feel better and then you will start thinking clearly."
The 25-year-old Kerala batsman has since then made this breathing exercise a routine while batting and it seems to be serving him well. Vishnu, who turned a corner in his career with a sensational 193 against Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy last year, has built on his reputation as a destructive batsman with his deeds in the Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Opening the batting, Vishnu scored 508 runs from eight matches, including three centuries, at a strike rate of 114. Though Kerala could not qualify for the knockouts, the plucky right-hander caught the eye with his big-hitting, tallying 29 sixes. He, in fact, set a record for the most sixes by a batsman in the history of the tournament with his 11 against Chhattisgarh. Vishnu's List-A record now reads an impressive 1036 runs at an average of 45 after 24 games.
"I was playing well from the pre-season games and I was confident that I could play some big knocks coming into the tournament," Vishnu, back in his hometown Thiruvalla, told TOI. "I scored a century against a touring Australian reserve team in one of the practice games in Chennai and felt good about my batting," he added.
A piece of advice from Kerala's new limited-overs skipper Robin Uthappa was uplifting for him, feels Vishnu. "In one of the other games against the Australians, I scored a quick 44 and then got out trying to hit a second six on the trot. Uthappa told me I should play more responsibly. When you hit a six, don't always try to hit the next one also out of the park. Curb your instinct and take a single. I knew I was guilty of falling for the tendency to go for one hit after another and now I have learnt there is a rhythm to batting even when you are trying to be positive," Vishu said.
Vishnu, hailing from Thiruvalla, had been typecast as a shorter-format player till recently. Though he made his Ranji Trophy debut in the 2016-17 season, he was not able to cement his place in the team. "I also wanted to play Ranji Trophy regularly but did not know how to do it earlier. But from last season, I have started putting a price on my wicket and now my main aim is to do well in first-class cricket," said Vishnu, an able wicketkeeper and a livewire fielding close to the bat, who has played 12 first-class games till now.
The season he had with RCB gave Vishnu a blueprint on how to approach the nets. "I noticed that players like de Villiers and Kohli practice the basics in the nets even ahead of a T20. They don't try many lofted shots or improvisations. It felt like they were preparing for a Test match the way they shape up and play. That was a big learning for me that you always need the basics irrespective of the format," said, Vishnu, who is bound to attract a few bidders in the IPL auction if keeps his form in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s.
One man who is delighted to see the rise of Vishnu is Joji John, a former Pathanamthitta district cricket association secretary, who identified the talents of the boy when he was 13 and mentored him during the early days. "He was a very dedicated kid. He was residing near Ranni when he started but he used to religiously come for practice in Thiruvalla and I knew he was special. We spent countless hours with me giving him throwdowns and talking cricket. He has become more matured in the last two years and I'm sure he is bound to go places," said Joji who runs the club Winners CC for whom Vishnu turns up even now.