Wanting to emulate Sehwag

Vijay Zol… the run machine from Maharashtra.-VIVEK BENDRE

Vijay Zol shot into national prominence after scoring a record unbeaten 451 against Assam in the Cooch Behar Trophy. The 17-year-old batsman from Maharashtra is now keen on making it to the Indian team for the ICC Under-19 World Cup to be played in Australia. By G. Viswanath.

As one takes a stroll around the P. Y. C. Hindu Gymkhana and the Deccan Gymkhana in Pune a little after dawn, one will find hundreds of boys, from different age groups, in whites, engaging in serious cricketing activity. And as the clock nears 9.30, a majority of them are ready to play a match. Though Maharashtra has produced many fine batsmen and bowlers, only Chandu Borde had a long and distinguished career for India in Test cricket (from the late 1950s to the late 1960s). So Maharashtra is looking for another cricketer who will help realise its dream of representing the nation in the traditional form of the game with as much success.

Pune has a strong cricket culture. However, it's not a gifted batsman or a robust fast bowler or an artful spinner from the city who has given hopes of playing for India, but a 17-year-old run machine from Jalna district called Vijay Zol.

The precocious Zol had won the BCCI's under-16 cricketer of the year award last year. The discerning have been following his progress right from the time he stepped out of Jalna, but it wasn't until the youngster with bushy eyebrows scored a record unbeaten 451 against Assam in a Plate ‘A' group match of the Cooch Behar (u-19) Trophy (at the Anant Kanhere Maidan in Nashik) that he shot into national prominence. Zol's knock — that came in 645 minutes off 467 balls with 55 fours and two sixes — bettered Yuvraj Singh's record of 358 (for Punjab against Bihar in Jamshedpur in 1999-2000) in the same tournament.

Zol was instrumental in taking Maharashtra to the final of the Cooch Behar Trophy, scoring 1544 runs in eight matches with five centuries (451 not out against Assam, 292 against Jammu & Kashmir, 121 and 225 against Himachal Pradesh and 176 against Railways). The left-hander also scored 90 against Bengal, 82 against Orissa and 73 against Punjab. “Sunil (Gavaskar) told Zol that the 176 (against Railways) was not enough and that he should look to score big consistently. In the next match, he made 292 against Jammu & Kashmir,” said Raju Metha of Sunny's Sports Boutique (SSB) in Pune.

Used to playing on matting wicket at an academy run by coach Raju Kane, Zol did not score a run off 104 balls in his first competitive match in the MCA invitation tournament. “I was nine years old then and I did not have the strength to drive, so I just blocked. I opened the innings and I finally got out driving into the hands of the cover fielder. When I returned to the pavilion my coach said I should have rotated the strike, but I did not have the strength to drive,” said Zol while selecting a bat at SSB.

He played only on matting wickets in the first two years and while representing Jain Irrigation, a team formed with players from Jalna and Jalgaon districts and coached by Sandeep Dahad, Zol began to play on turf wickets when he travelled to Pune to take part in the MCA super league invitation tournament. It was in Pune that he scored his first century at the Cadence Academy in 2005-06. Thereafter he notched eight centuries in tournaments run by the MCA.

“Practising on matting wickets has helped me face the fast bowlers. The ball hastens off a matting wicket, but on turf I have to wait a little for the ball to arrive. I had to make this adjustment. My school (Golden Jubilee School) did not have a cricket team and I had to go to the academy run by Raju Kane. There was no sports goods shop in Jalna that sold bats and my father bought me my first bat from Mumbai. None from my family are into sports and so I wanted to play and that's why I quit school after Standard IX. My father, a criminal lawyer, supported my decision. My mother wants me to complete my education. So far, the decision has worked well form me,” said Zol.

He has been a regular at the NCA camp in Bangalore for the last three years, although last year he went there for rehabilitation after a knee surgery. Zol is keen on making it to the Indian team for the ICC Under-19 World Cup to be played in Australia.

Talking of expectations from his team-mates, Zol said: “There is pressure when you want to do well for the team and when your team is chasing 350 or 400. Pressure is good, but I want to bat like Virender Sehwag and dominate the bowling. I like to emulate him.”