Humble, Honest and Humane, are the three best words I can think of to describe this young and upcoming middle order batsman from Andhra – Yalaka Venugopal Rao. Venugopal Rao is one of those immensely talented batsmen, Indian cricket is constantly churning and his recent run of form which is nothing short of classy is certainly a reflection of the far flung talents emerging out of India. Cricketfundas.com’s Venkat caught up with the prospective future star of Indian cricket – Y Venugopal Rao at the Cricket Club of India during the Ranji match between Mumbai and Andhra at Mumbai and below is the interview compiled.
Venugopal, when did you start playing cricket i.e. at what age? And as many young cricketers, did you also have a role model, who you wanted to emulate?
I started playing my cricket at the age of 10 at Vishakhapatnam. Well, when I started playing the game, obviously Sachin was at the peak of his career at that time, and he was my hero, as he is for most of us, but gradually I modeled myself on the likes of Matthew Hayden, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid.
You made your Ranji Trophy debut against Karnataka at a tender age of 17. When you walked out to play for Andhra then, did you ever imagine that you would be knocking at the doors of the Indian team so soon?
To be honest with you, yes. After being a part of that team in 2000 that won the Under-19 World Cup in Sri Lanka, I always wanted to be a part of the Indian team, and most importantly emulate that feat of winning a World Cup for the country. But, it was only since the African tour that I felt I was in the selector’s books.
You got picked for the tour of South Africa after just 3 seasons of First Class cricket. What did you get to learn from this tough tour, considering that you only got one chance and made only 23 runs?
To put it straight, I feel that this tour is one of the important ones of my career so far. I was by far used as a bowler primarily by the team management in South Africa. So, since then, I have essentially turned myself into a premier batsman who can bowl, you could say I wanted to prove a point about my batsmanship. Besides, the tours to countries like Australia and South Africa are ones that make you mentally strong and I would say the post-South African tour results are there to see.
What would you say was the real turning point of your career?
Certainly, the 228 not out versus the English A team at Gurgaon. Well, yes, to tell you more about that match, the England A team consisted of current players like Simon Jones and Sajid Mahmood, and they got right on top of us in the first innings bundling us out for 178 or so. And moreover the English press was questioning the credibility of the First Class teams in India. So, we as a team and I as an individual decided that if there was a chance to create history, it was now. And that’s what happened. And moreover, a score of 500 was never chased by a First Class team in India and if you mention history, only the 406 chased by India in WI comes to mind. And I feel, its never something wrong being etched in the history books for the right reasons. And, after that match, the England A team was totally demoralized and well did not recover from the shock we gave them.
Your biggest claim to fame was that mammoth run chase for South Zone against England A at Gurgaon in the 2003-04 Duleep Trophy. Can you talk us through that historic knock of yours and the two important partnerships with Sridharan Sriram and Subramaniam Badrinath?
Sure. I must confess that we never had a win target of 500 in mind, because those scores usually have an intimidating effect on the players. Our philosophy was pretty simple – Play session by session and try and reach as close to the target as possible, and we just took it on from there. And, a time has come for me to thank Sriram and Badri for making it possible for both me and the team. One more incident comes to mind during that game. We were on 496 when Badri was on 96 and as a tribute to the great partnership, I just gave him strike to reach his century and score the winning runs, which I guess was only just.
And since then Y Venugopal Rao’s bat seems more like a magical wand, whatever it strikes yields only runs, runs and more runs! How important would you consider the India A’s tour of Africa?
I was not initially a member of the squad that went to Zimbabwe. When the tour began, I was in Australia as a part of the Border-Gavaskar scholarship and only after Rohan Gavaskar was picked to play for India at Holland did I get a chance to join the team. And in the second leg of the tour at Kenya, I was picked to play and all I said to myself, was “its time to make it count” and so it happened and it was great to score a double century against a Kenyan international team also. It is not only important from the runs perspective, but also from the form point of view. I was having a purple patch, and I had to make sure that it continued for the future games to come.
From a more broader and national perspective, there is an intense race for a middle order spot in the national team, if and ever it is vacated for some unfortunate reasons. With the competition so intense, how soon do you see yourself wearing the India cap?
To be frank, I am hoping it to be sooner rather than later, but that’s not my call and I would like it to leave it to the selectors to decide. After the success we had in Africa, I scored one more century in the Irani Cup, so if I keep performing as consistently and as well as I am now, I hope to be noticed. But, I would say, Whenever the selectors need me to play for the country, I am there.
Your individual progress as a player has been one of the reasons Andhra has emerged as a side, top Ranji teams cannot choose to ignore. So what according to you, does future hold for Andhra Cricket? Any promising youngsters coming through?
I would say that ever since we were in the Elite Group, we have come a long way. We have a team that has been around for the past 2 or 3 seasons and all our players are reasonably well settled. And we are going through a stage where we have a young side, with the average age of the team anywhere between 22 and 23, along with experienced campaigners like Amit Pathak and MSK Prasad. I feel that there are some youngsters coming through, Y Gnaneshwara Rao, D Kalyanakrishna and Mohammad Faiq are some that I would like to point to.
Do you think Andhra stand a realistic chance of winning the Ranji Trophy this season?
Well I feel that it takes some time to build a team and as I told you earlier, we look settled since 2-3 years. Even though we may not be in the absolute form, we always believe in playing to win. And we have the capability to do so. And we believe in a simple philosophy with regards to Ranji Trophy – “Give a cent per cent and look to improve everyday”, and perhaps in a few years from now, we could see an Andhra team lifting the Ranji Trophy.
Any message you would like to give to Cricketfundas.com?
I must commend you on the fact that you are doing a great job with regards to giving good coverage to young and upcoming cricketers. It is only just that they get their due and hope you and the website do well to make them known to the people. All the best !