Small-town boy with a big dream

Vijay Zol...Test cricket is his favourite.-VIVEK BENDRE

With solid performances in the junior circuit, Vijay Hari Zol is climbing his way up. J. R. Shridharan caught up with the teenager in Kadapa during Maharashtra’s Ranji match against Andhra.

Indian cricketing legend Rahul Dravid, while delivering his keynote address at a leadership summit, said that the next generation cricketers will come from smaller towns and cities. His observation is already gathering credence since one youngster has begun his arduous journey towards the Indian dressing room from Jalna, a non-descript town, in Maharashtra.

With solid performances in the junior circuit, the diminutive south paw, Vijay Hari Zol, 19, is climbing his way up. He is all set to lead the Indian under-19 team in the Asia Cup in Dubai from December 28.

The precocious teenager drew the attention of the cricketing world by scoring an unbeaten 451 in an under-19 match in 2011. With his heroic stay for 645 minutes, Zol made his intention loud and clear that he is a lambi race ka ghoda (A horse for longer course).

Well, what makes this youngster click?

“As a small-town boy, I know how important it is to make use of an opportunity. I am very protective about my wicket and I do not want to give it away cheaply,” says Zol, who is predicted to play an important part in the Indian top-order in the future.

Vijay Zol will always remember 2013 as the year gave him several opportunities to prove his talent and also learn from his mistakes. He captained the India under-19 team successfully against Australia, Sri Lanka and New Zealand and in the quadrangular series involving South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia in Visakhapatnam.

He has had a dream first-class debut. In his maiden Ranji Trophy appearance against Tripura, he scored an unbeaten 200 in Pune. He had scored two hundreds — one against New Zealand ‘A’ in an unofficial Test and the other against South Africa in the quadrangular series, both in Visakhapatnam.

“The World Cup (under-19) triumph in Australia in 2012 will always be special for it enhanced the self-belief among many youngsters and I was one of them,” says Zol, who was in Kadapa to play a Ranji match for Maharashtra against Andhra.

Quite interestingly, unlike the modern-day cricketer, Zol prefers flannels (whites) to the colourful jerseys and pyjamas. “I think Test cricket is the ultimate test for a cricketer. It is my dream to enter the Indian Test dressing room. I am not against the Twenty20 format but the longer version is what I prefer,” says Zol, who was part of the Bangalore-based Royal Challengers in the Indian Premium League.

Vijay Zol honed his skills by following the exploits of players like Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar and Australia’s Michael Hussey.

West Zone’s Vijay Zolin action against South Zone in the Deodhar Trophy semifinal at the Nehru Stadium in Guwahati in March 2013.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

“Hussey is the ultimate example of human endurance. At the age of 30, he made his Test debut after putting in years of hard work in the domestic circuit,” says Zol, a big fan of actor Aamir Khan.

Critics and his fellow-mates believe that Zol’s ability to read the ball well separates him from many others. “Yes I play my shots a bit late. I see the ball until the last moment before I play it. I play to my strengths and I like to drive on both sides. Not that I don’t like other shots but I accumulate more runs that way.”

Surendra Bhave, the Maharashtra coach, has some interesting observations. “There is no half-hearted effort when he is in the middle. Once he is committed to a stroke, he executes it effectively. He has his own method of making runs and believes in taking the attack to the rival camp.”

The ‘small-town-boy’ tag is working in Zol’s favour as he hesitates to be flamboyant like most of the city-bred cricketers. “He is not interested in getting the ‘dude’ tag. He stays grounded and never forgets his humble upbringing. He also knows that deviation of any form will hamper his dream of making it to the Indian team,” says Bhave.

Bhave also says that Zol is learning safer techniques against short balls and strokes close to outside the off-stump.

“We are keen to transform him as an athletic fielder as he normally guards the 30-yard circle,” Bhave adds.

At an early age Zol has understood the modern-day edict of competitive sports. “To achieve success in sports is easy but to stay at the top for a longer duration is the real challenge. I am preparing for the challenge seriously,” he signs off before plugging into his favourite playback singer Sonu Nigam.