Abhinav positive despite tough baptism
A solitary half-century, a near king-pair, an average shading 20.00 and three different opening partners in his first five matches - the numbers are indicative of how tough Abhinav Mukund's baptism into Test cricket has been, but he is encouraged by the way he has come through.
"The results don't show how much progress I made," Abhinav told ESPNcricinfo. "I have definitely got the belief that I could do well and there's so much that I have learned. It was a tough couple of tours [West Indies and England], but I can take a lot of confidence out of them."
Abhinav was far from the reckoning at the start of the season but injuries to Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir gave him a chance in the West Indies alongside his Tamil Nadu opening partner M Vijay. His performance on that tour sealed the third opener's slot for England ahead of Vijay, but Abhinav insists he will always look up to his "senior partner" in whose company he has amassed runs for his state.
"I've been opening with Vijay since I started playing at the domestic level [so] it was really good to open with him in my first three Tests," Abhinav said. "Both of us know that there is competition, but that doesn't affect our equation. He has helped me a lot in the domestic set-up, where we have had long partnerships and spent a lot of time in the middle."
Abhinav dropped out of the XI with Sehwag returning for the last two Tests against England, despite his century batting at No. 3 in the tour game against Northants, and he played no further part in the tour. The setback did not affect Abhinav, who admitted that shoehorning him into the XI for Edgbaston would have upset the team's combination.
"I batted at No. 3 in the tour game only to give Dravid a break," Abhinav said. "I wanted to get a few runs and put some pressure on the management. At the end of the day, I believe that opening batsmen should open. [However] I don't really mind playing lower down the order if slots open up there and I can contribute."
Abhinav's debut coincided with that of the new India coach, Duncan Fletcher, who he says has had a positive influence on his batting. "Duncan hadn't seen me much before the West Indies tour," Abhinav said. "There were a lot of pointers he gave me, small things. The wickets in West Indies were a lot bouncier than I expected - especially Jamaica and Barbados. He showed me how to play much closer to the body, which was very helpful for someone like me who has grown up batting on South Indian wickets. It is something that I can use when playing on wickets with bounce and movement."
Walking out with different partners on a regular basis did not, he said, affect his mindset. "You can't control injuries, especially on-field ones as happened to Gautam," Abhinav said. "I had played with Dravid before [in the West Indies], and opening with him wasn't a big difference since he comes in at No. 3."
Abhinav's biggest challenge in England came at Trent Bridge where he chose to take first strike in the second innings despite being on a king pair. "I really wanted to take the first ball, no matter what," he said. "I wanted to back myself and taking first strike was a positive move. It was very important that the openers showed a sign of solidarity, since the team revolves around the start the openers make."
Like in the first innings, Abhinav edged his first ball into the cordon, but Tim Bresnan put down a simple catch. Abhinav could not cash in, though, and managed only three as India sank against a bouncer barrage.
"It was a really good ball," Abhinav said about the James Anderson outswinger that nearly gave him the ignominy of two first-ballers. "Considering it was a good ball, I could have got a king pair but I didn't. At the end of the day, though, I didn't get too many either. I should have carried on."
Abhinav's batting has reminded several cricket followers of the former Tamil Nadu and India opener Sadagoppan Ramesh. Abhinav said his team-mates, including Sachin Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh, refer to him as 'Taki', which used to be Ramesh's nickname. "Apparently, even my mannerisms off the field are similar to his," he said. "It is nothing conscious, since I haven't seen Ramesh bat much. By the time I got my break into the Ranji side, he had moved on to other things."
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo