Abhinav cashes in on good form
Five rounds into the Ranji season, Abhinav Mukund is yet to have a failure. He has scored runs in all corners of India, against varied attacks of impressive pedigree. And it was more of the same as Tamil Nadu took on Gujarat at Motera. By stumps on the first day, Abhinav had powered to an unbeaten 150, guiding his team to an imposing 288 for 2. Given his good form and well-known appetite for big scores, one wouldn't bet against him getting to his second double-hundred of the season on the second day.
"I am happy with the effort, but would like to carry on and get a huge score tomorrow," Abhinav told ESPNcricinfo. " It was a flat wicket, but it did a bit in the morning session. The ball was swinging, and M Vijay got a really good ball in the first over. [Gujarat medium pacer] Ishwar Chaudhary was a constant threat since he got the ball to angle in and straighten."
Abhinav was backed up by S Badrinath, who shrugged off a long injury lay-off to produce a century that suggested he hasn't lost the touch that made him the highest run-getter in 2010. Together the pair added 223 runs for the second wicket, batting through the bulk of the day.
"It has always been great to bat with Badri," Mukund said. "He talks a lot in the middle, and he mentions all the little important things that make a difference to your batting. He knows exactly what goes on during a big stand, he watches you closely from the other end and guides you well. In the last few years, we have developed this habit of sharing some big partnerships, and it was good to produce another one today."
Abhinav, like Badrinath and Vijay, began the season with plenty to prove, having lost favour with the India selectors, but has flourished under the challenge. Vijay, however, has endured a difficult season, making only 121 runs from seven innings. But Abhinav believes his opening partner hasn't much luck this season.
"He's been working really hand, and things are definitely about to turn around soon for him," Abhinav said. "He has got out to a couple of very good balls and also been run-out once. As an opener, you could miss out at times on easy tracks, after getting a difficult ball early. He has got only one start in four innings, but I am sure we will have a big partnership soon."
On paper, the Gujarat attack is probably the easiest Abhinav has encountered so far. The double-hundred against Haryana came under pressure, as TN were chasing the first-innings lead against an attack including Amit Mishra. Abhinav also made a match-winning 83 at Eden Gardens against a Bengal attack led by the in-form Ashok Dinda. But, personally, he rates the 99 he scored on a treacherous Ferozshah Kotla pitch against the challenging new-ball pairing of Ashish Nehra and Parvinder Awana as his best innings so far this season. During that effort, he was struck by a Pradeep Sangwan delivery that took off to hit his jaw, forcing him to retire hurt on 39. The blow made it diffcult to talk, but he was feeling comfortable enough to bat.
"That 99 was special, since it came on a difficult track with a sore jaw. After getting hit, I was finding it difficult to see the ball, and the bounce was unpredictable. That will probably be up there with the best knocks I have played. Equally, in the Haryana game, I built on my century to get a double-ton which was quite satisfying since we were losing wickets at the other end."
The season has been a success on the personal front so far, and Abhinav isn't letting the disappointment of missing the flight to Australia affect that. "When you're not in the national team, it is disappointing, but it is very important to move on. I am thankful for the experience I got in England and West Indies. It definitely helps you, and you come back to domestic cricket as a much better batsman after spending time with guys who have over 10,000 runs. I have progressed as a batsman from those experiences and retain the hunger to score big runs.
"Making a comeback is not on my hands, and I am not thinking about national selection now. My first goal is to keep doing well, and win the Ranji Trophy for my side."
Nitin Sundar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo