TILL ABOUT 48 hours ago, the closest that Dr Vikas Kumar had come to his schoolboy dream of playing top-level cricket was when he was appointed “Doctor on Duty” at the Feroz Shah Kotla in Delhi for the India-Sri Lanka Test match three years ago.
On Wednesday morning, the 35-year-old had his name on an England shirt.
As international cricket resumed in Southampton after a gap of 117 days, Vikas Kumar’s name was among those featured on the jerseys of England’s Test players to honour health workers at the forefront of the Covid fight. Kumar works at the critical care unit of a National Health Service (NHS) Trust hospital at Darlington in Durham, and was among those nominated by cricket clubs in England as part of their Raise The Bat campaign. For him, the topping on the treat was when his name featured on the jersey worn by England’s captain and World Cup star Ben Stokes.
“It was overwhelming to see Stokes and others putting that message out. It’s been very difficult for all of us. NHS staff have made a lot of sacrifices. This recognition is for the entire medical fraternity, including my doctor friends in India,” says vikas Kumar, a Delhi University alumni who completed his post-graduate diploma in anaesthesia from Maulana Azad Medical College.
Kumar, who shifted to England in 2019 with his wife and two-year-old son, plays cricket for Gilli Boys Amateur Club, formed by Asian-origin players, and Cowgate Cricket Club in nearby Newcastle. “I was a cricket fan, and played for my medical college, but all my family members were into studies. So I had to become a doctor like my brothers,” he says, laughing.
Recalling the only time he came close to international cricketers, Kumar describes that Delhi Test of 2017 as “the game where there was a lot of air pollution and players wore masks”.
Today, with Durham recording 3,310 Covid cases, Kumar has been busy in two intensive care units. “As anaesthetists, we have to oversee every emergency case, apart from being a part of emergency surgeries and securing breathing tubes, which is considered a high-risk aerosol-generating procedure. I was in self-isolation at home, with my wife Smita Rashmi, who is a medical writer, taking care of our son Viraaj who would throw tantrums to spend time with me,” he says.
The names of three other Indian-origin health workers — Dr Jamasp Kaikhushroo Dastur from Norwich, and Harikrishna Shah and physiotherapist Krishan Aghada from Leicester — were also featured in the campaign for the ongoing series against the West Indies.
Dastur, whose name was showcased by Jos Buttler, shifted to England from Mumbai in 2003 and currently works at Norwich University Hospital as a surgeon. “My love for cricket owes much to my grandfather and father. I lost my father Kaikhushroo last year and as a tribute, I asked his name to be added,” says the 42-year-old.
Shah’s name features on the jersey worn by James Bracey. “We are together in this fight and each role is important in this battle,” says the 45-year-old who works as Emergency Health Coordinator at Leicester Royal Infirmary, another NHS facility.
Kumar, meanwhile, hopes to raise money for the NHS by auctioning the jersey signed by Stokes. Until then, there’s this heart-warming video message from the star to cherish: “Hi Vikas, a big thanks for everything you have done throughout this pandemic. I want to wish you a happy return to cricket, all the best mate, get as many runs and wickets as you can.”
The doctor’s response? “I wish you on your first Test as captain.”