After years in the wilderness, Abhinav Mukund gets a call up as third opener

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Published:February 1, 2017 4:08 am
Abhinav Mukund, picked as a back-up opener, last played a Test for India in 2011.

Not long ago, Abhinav Mukund walked up to a national selector to exchange pleasantries. All he got in response to his greeting though was an obligatory “Hello” and an empty stare. It was clear to Abhinav that the selector, who’s no longer part of the panel now, had absolutely no clue who he was. So, the Tamil Nadu opener proceeded to introduce himself. The name ‘Abhinav Mukund’ did seem to ring a bell with the selector and he immediately said with an all-knowing nod, “Oh yes, I have your name on my laptop somewhere.”

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For the record, Abhinav had become the first Indian batsman to score a first-class century while facing a pink ball only a week earlier in the Duleep Trophy. But somehow here he was being slighted by one of the five men he would expect to have taken notice. In a way though the anecdote sums up Abhinav’s career ever since he slipped out of the cricket-public consciousness following a brief fling with Test cricket nearly six years ago.

On Tuesday, the 27-year-old was given a chance to set that right after being handed a recall to the Indian squad for the one-off Test against Bangladesh as the third opener behind Murali Vijay and KL Rahul. But it’s not like Abhinav hasn’t been quietly about his job without much fuss away from the spotlight.

There have been both peaks and troughs in his seasonal form in domestic cricket ever since he played his last Test at Trent Bridge in August 2011. But whenever he’s been among the runs, he’s made it count, finishing in the higher echelons of the batting charts.

But still, he’s continued to remain tucked underneath the radar.

That he hasn’t been a regular part of the IPL, and in fact missed that glitzy bus completely over the last couple of years hasn’t helped. Nor has the fact that he plays for a state team that despite being highly-billed rarely makes it to the marquee matches. As a result, it’s Abhinav’s year-end statistics rather than the actual runs that get the attention they deserve. His self-effacing personality and self-deprecating humour only add to his reputation as being a hard-working and consistent performer who’s never quite managed to score the ‘employee of the month’ prize.

To the extent that even in the Irani Trophy dressing-room recently, the only discussion any of the bowlers in his team had with him was about when and where they had dismissed him as if he’d never scored a run against them — this in his own admission.

The 2016-17 season has been Abhinav’s second-most prolific season ever. He’s already amassed 1124 runs at 62.44, following up his Duleep Trophy 169 with four centuries in the Ranji Trophy.

As captain of Tamil Nadu he almost orchestrated a dramatic turnaround against Mumbai in the semi-final with an attacking second-innings hundred. Over the years, he’s also worked on solidifying his technique and becoming busier at the crease.

Runs come more fluently than they did against the West Indian and English attacks when he last donned India colours. He’s fitter now than ever before and even indulged a couple of years ago in a Mixed Martial Arts session with Grenadian Andre Winner, who has competed in various fight competitions including UFC.

Abhinav’s Test chances came at a time when both Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were injured. His only half-century came in Dominica, a score of 62, and he started the English tour with a fighting 49 at Lord’s. But by the third Test, Sehwag and Gambhir were reunited again. By the time those two faded away, Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan—who he incidentally replaces now—had cemented their place, and Abhinav has also seen Rahul leapfrog him into now being India’s No.2 opener.

But throughout, Abhinav has continued to punch his timecard and more often than not deliver for his state team for in the many India A opportunities that have come his way, without managing the spectacular. In the six seasons that he’s been away from international cricket, he’s averaged below 40 only twice. Still, he hasn’t had fans holding up hoardings at grounds demanding his return or inspired #bringbackabhinav hashtags.

Considering that he already has 120 first-class matches to his credit, you don’t realize at times that Abhinav turned 27 less than a month ago. It’s likely that he will warm the bench in Hyderabad in two weeks’ time unless of course there’s a last-minute injury to the established openers. There are still four Tests to come against Australia though in this mega home season and many more in overseas climes thereafter. That leaves plenty of time still for Abhinav to significantly resurrect his truncated international career and maybe also to ensure that he never again has to walk up to a national selector and introduce himself.

Test team: Virat Kohli (Captain), Murali Vijay, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane, Karun Nair, Wriddhiman Saha (WK), R Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Jayant Yadav, Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Amit Mishra, Abhinav Mukund, Hardik Pandya

India ‘A’ team*: Hardik Pandya (Captain), Akhil Herwadkar, Priyank Panchal, Shreyas Iyer, Ankit Bawne, Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan (WK), Shahbaz Nadeem, Krishnappa Gowtham, Kuldeep Yadav, Navdeep Saini, Ashok Dinda, Mohammed Siraj, Rahul Singh, Baba Indrajith

*For practice games against Australia

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