A chance to impress for Abhinav Mukund

Abhinav Mukund reaches his fourth hundred of the season ESPNcricinfo Ltd

He has a triple-century, hundreds on Ranji and Irani Trophy debuts, a quadruple-century opening stand, a 50-plus average after three first-class seasons and an IPL contract - all this before his 20th birthday. And now Abhinav Mukund, Tamil Nadu's left-hand opener, has taken another step towards national selection by being included in the Board President's XI squad to take on the South Africans in Nagpur from Tuesday.

Abhinav was named in the squad to take on the touring Sri Lankans in the same fixture last year but the weather prevented him from actually playing. If he takes guard against South Africa, it will be his first knock against an international quality attack, and his survival skills and longevity at the crease will be put to test.

The emergence of Abhinav, one of several newcomers starting to find their feet, coincided with - or perhaps was responsible for - the revival of Tamil Nadu's fortunes on the domestic circuit. The team was in a rebuilding phase after losing a bunch of players to the ICL, and the prime indicator of that revival was the emergence of a strong top order featuring Abhinav and M Vijay.

Shortly before the 2007-08 season, Abhinav toured Sri Lanka with the India Under-19 squad where he hit 399 runs in two matches at 99.75. He wasn't handed a Ranji debut immediately. In fact he had to sit out Tamil Nadu's first two games but on the morning of the third, against Karnataka, a team-mate's misfortune gave Abhinav the break he needed.

"Honestly, I wasn't expecting that call-up at all. I was looking forward to another four days of rest when R Ashwin (the offspinner) pulled out with an injury on the morning of the match," Abhinav told Cricinfo from his home in Chennai. "I came in at the fall of the first wicket and got off the mark with a boundary off the first ball. From then on, I was in the zone."

He has self-belief and youthful exuberance, and is willing to take risks but perhaps his most handy trait is that he's tough to dismiss once he gets his eye in. He followed his debut hundred with another ton against Saurashtra and almost made it three in a row, falling for 96 against Himachal Pradesh.

That streak was matched by Vijay, who hit a similar purple patch on his debut. The two have chemistry at the crease that has translated itself into massive partnerships, including 462 in their 2008-09 Ranji season opener against Maharashtra in Nasik. They were three short of the Ranji record when Vijay fell for 243.

"We understand each other's game very well," Abhinav says. "We have similar styles, we like to settle down first before going for the big shots. We share a great rapport on and off the field."

Abhinav remembers the final moments of that triple-hundred vividly. "I never expected to get close to a triple," he says. "I was dropped on 202 and by then was mentally tired. I batted till 247, expecting a declaration but the captain Dinesh [Karthik] gave me another 10 to 12 overs. From then on I just slogged."

That knock was like the pilot episode for a fantastic show that continued through the season, in which he scored 856 runs at 85.60, finishing fourth in the list of run-getters in the Ranji elite group. He also had a 100% conversion rate, going on to score hundreds on each of the four occasions when he crossed fifty. A ton in the Ranji ODI finals guided Tamil Nadu to the title and he began the next season with another century, in the Irani Trophy against Mumbai.

That Abhinav took to cricket itself wasn't surprising, given that his parents played the sport too. A regular on the school cricket scene, Abhinav took it up seriously only in his final year at school.

Were his folks pleased with his career choice? "Well my mother found it difficult to digest," he says. "She wanted me to study, which is natural in many families in the south, where there's a stress on academics. I did find it hard mixing studies with sports." He's still trying to juggle between the two, now pursuing a Commerce degree on the side.

He furthered his cricket education in 2009 when he won the Border-Gavaskar Scholarship to spend five weeks at the Center of Excellence in Brisbane. That stint not only tightened his technique but also introduced him to the life of a professional sportsman.

"I learnt how to be self-sufficient in life. The facilities were amazing. It was a good experience batting against the Kookaburra ball, especially against the bowling machine. I also got good exposure against the short ball."

Like Gautam Gambhir, he's a powerful cutter and driver of the ball off the front foot through the off side, and doesn't mind the odd slash. Having been brought up on flat wickets, however, Abhinav is yet to be tested in conditions where the ball swings for considerable periods. A few A-team tours will do him a world of good, as will an opportunity against the South Africans. He says he's received offers from clubs in the UK, but he's yet to commit to them because of the upcoming IPL and the league season in Chennai. Another area he's working hard on is his fielding. He feels his worth as a utility player may just give him more opportunities in Twenty20 cricket.

With another Ranji season just ended, Abhinav already has noteworthy achievements jotted down on his CV. Frequent injuries have opened the doors to fringe players in India like S Badrinath and Sudeep Tyagi. At this rate, his name may crop up more often in selection meetings.