Kerala cricket was in for a disappointment at the recent mega auction for the IPL. Only three home-grown Kerala players were bought by the franchises. It was six last year.

At the auction, Vishnu Vinod became the most expensive Kerala player in the IPL 2022 auction at Rs. 50 lakh, against a base price of Rs. 20 lakh. The wicketkeeper-batter is set to join Sunrisers Hyderabad, after stints with Royal Challengers Bangalore and Delhi Capitals.

He is not thinking about the IPL at the moment, though. He is focussed on the on-going Ranji Trophy tournament.

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After Kerala won its first match against Meghalaya with a day to spare, the 28-year-old is looking forward to the game against Gujarat, starting at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Thursday. “Gujarat is a strong team, but we had beaten them at Krishnagiri (Wayanad) two years ago in the quarterfinal so we are confident,” Vishnu told Sportstar. “And it is nice to notice that everyone contributed to the win against Meghalaya.”

He is glad that the Ranji Trophy is back. “It was frustrating that there was no Ranji last season because of Covid,” he said. “I am 28 and for players like me it was a big blow. I have always enjoyed playing red-ball cricket.”

Though he has had more success in the white-ball format, one of his finest knocks came in the Ranji Trophy, against Madhya Pradesh in 2018 at Thiruvananthapuram. His unbeaten 193 and his 199-run run partnership with captain Sachin Baby had brought Kerala back into the game from a hopeless position.

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With that innings Vishnu showed that his batting wasn’t all about big hits and that he could adapt to the more demanding longer format. He played a similar knock just a couple of months ago, in this very city.

His unbeaten 100 off 82 balls gave Kerala an unlikely four-wicket win against Maharashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament. He had added 174 for the unbroken seventh wicket with Sijomon Joseph. As someone who touched the hard cricket ball only at the age of 13, he has indeed come a long way.

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“Back in my village, Perunad in Pathanamthitta district, it was with the tennis ball that I played for many years,” he said. “It was after I was selected in the Kerala Under-19 team in 2012 that I felt I could have a career in cricket.”

Vishnu believes Kerala cricket is on the right track. “Look at the way three newcomers – Edhen Apple Tom, Vathsal Govind and Rohan Kunnummal – performed here,” he said. “It is great watching our youngsters doing well in the Ranji Trophy.”