Vijaykumar, the fast-bowling stalwart for Andhra

Andhra's impressive pacer Paidikalva Vijaykumar makes no bones of his experiences as a lorry cleaner, manual labourer or farm help, which not only hardened him for the much easier life in cricket but leaves him humble to this day.

Paidikalva Vijaykumar was predicted by former Australia wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist to play for India one day.   -  A. Joseph Antony

If the meek shall inherit the earth, Paidikalva Vijaykumar’s domain would be the 22-odd yard strip spanning a cricket pitch. He’s no latter day Harold Larwood, but there are parallels with the pit-boy turned paceman from Nuncargate.

If terrains temper temperaments, Vijay’s rustic simplicity reflects the rough ways of Rayalaseema, a region ranked high among the nation’s badlands. “The IPL is the perfect platform to showcase his potential,” his Deccan Chargers’ captain V.V.S. Laxman had said in the opening season.

Vijay makes no bones of his experiences as a lorry cleaner, manual labourer or farm help, which not only hardened him for the much easier life in cricket but leaves him humble to this day. Shortly before cricket’s showpiece got underway, he told Sportstar he was never injured nor did he require physiotherapy. Stretching out his sinewy arms he said, “There’s little work that these have not done.”

After almost each over Vijay bowled, legendary wicketkeeper-batsman Adam Gilchrist patted the paceman on the back, prodding him on with words of encouragement. Ever reliable, regardless of the situation, the Kadapa native’s consistency was never in question, down the years.

The Aussie swashbuckler had predicted two players from his side would don India colours, one of whom — Rohit Sharma — did. But Vijay didn't quite make it. He also earned the admiration of India’s Summer of 1971 veteran Abid Ali, who mentored Andhra to higher levels of achievement and the respect of erstwhile Andhra captain Mohammad Kaif.

Incisive

Loyalty to his leaders is nearly blind. “Entrust Vijay with responsibility and he delivers,” said Robin Uthappa. “Very talented, he can move the ball both ways. Even with an old ball, he can seam it away from the batsmen,” noted the hard-hitting opener. “A man of few words, off the field he’s a gentle person but that has no bearing on how good he can be with the new ball,” Uthappa added.

Scalping the former Indian opener and Manoj Tiwary, Vijay considers, the highpoints of his first-class career. Equally satisfying was stopping a rampaging Sourav Ganguly, whose 91 had 11 boundaries and five sixes, in the first season of the IPL. Vijay was determined to end the former Indian skipper’s run, insisting on a deep fine leg against Gilchrist’s suggestion of a shorter one. Sure enough, Ganguly hooked and R. P. Singh completed a comfortable catch.

Pragyan Ojha found him mentally tough when playing alongside Vijay for the now defunct Chargers. “I would be motivated myself when I saw how tough he was mentally. To make it to top-level cricket from such a difficult past, remain simple and down to earth is outstanding,” said Vijay’s tweaker teammate.

Current Andhra Manager M. S. Kumar watched Vijay bloom with hauls of four, six and four wickets in just three outings that catapulted the latter from the under-22 level to the Ranji squad. He also saw Vijay’s five-wicket hauls in both innings that brought Andhra victory against a mighty Bengal. Incidentally, it was M. S. K. Prasad’s swansong.

“When not playing for Andhra, Vijay should have competed in a challenging league, such as the [Tamil Nadu Cricket Association's], to take his game to the next level,” the BCCI chairman of selectors observed.

For the present, the strapping speedster, with 200 Ranji victims from 59 matches, is well within striking range of K. S. Shahabuddin’s 248 from 80, to become Andhra’s highest wicket-taker.