Temperament is my biggest strength - Mukund
The shoulder injury to Gautam Gambhir had not been playing just on the selectors' minds when they got together to pick the team for the Test series in the West Indies. Abhinav Mukund was among the frontrunners to replace Gambhir, like he had done last year in the Bangalore Test against Australia, and his call-up in Virender Sehwag's absence means he is likely to open the innings with his Tamil Nadu team-mate M Vijay in the Caribbean.
"There was a lot of talk of me replacing Gambhir, so that played on my mind as well," Mukund told ESPNcricinfo. "I've been doing very well in the last two years in domestic cricket, I'm glad the selectors have taken notice of that. My efforts have paid off."
Mukund, 21, made his debut in 2007, and in 40 first-class games, he has averaged 59.41 with 13 centuries, including a triple-ton. He began the 2010-11 domestic season with 161 and 63 in the Irani Cup, finished as Tamil Nadu's second-highest run scorer in the Ranji Trophy and scored a century in each innings of the Duleep Trophy semi-final for South Zone.
Joining Mukund on the tour are his state team-mates, Vijay and S Badrinath. "Vijay and I opened a lot together initially and we understand each other's game well," Mukund said. "We share a very good rapport and our past experience in opening together will definitely help us."
Vijay and Mukund amassed 462 for the first wicket in a Ranji Trophy game against Maharashtra in 2008-09 and could well pair up again in the absence of Gambhir and Sehwag. Although Mukund admitted filling the void would be a tough task, he was confident his mental strength would hold him in good stead. "My temperament is my biggest strength," he said. "I learnt a lot about that from Badri. Even Sachin paaji told me that he constantly keeps working on his game and I'm only starting out in international cricket."
Mukund is part of the Chennai Super Kings squad in the IPL but hasn't played a game this season. He's been in the company of several others whose brains he's been picking through the tournament. "I've been spending time with the left-handers in my team, mainly Suresh Raina and Michael Hussey, and their inputs will certainly help."
Mukund, who's been part of India's Under-19 team, the A team tour of England and the National Cricket Academy in the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia, won a Border-Gavaskar Scholarship in 2009 and spent five weeks at the Center of Excellence in Brisbane. In an interview with ESPNcricinfo last year Mukund had said: "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."
And now, after another successful Ranji season, he's won the selectors over and is preparing for his first international tour with the national team as its youngest member. "I had been part of the Test squad in Bangalore, it just feels good to be sharing the dressing room with them once again."
Another player who was expecting the call-up for the tour was Parthiv Patel, who will double up as reserve wicketkeeper and reserve opener. He is returning to the Test fold after an absence of three years. "I was expecting it a little bit based on my domestic showing in the last few years," said Parthiv, who last played in 2008.
Parthiv made his debut on the 2002 tour of England but has played only 20 Tests because he found chances hard to come by once MS Dhoni secured his spot as wicketkeeper. He has continued being a strong performer in domestic cricket, scoring 526 runs at an average of 47.81 in the 2008-09 Ranji Trophy and 727 at 66.09 in 2009-10.
A century in the Irani Trophy boosted his confidence in 2010-11 after which he scored consecutive fifties while opening in the ODIs against New Zealand. He opened in two ODIs in South Africa as well, scored 49 runs, but worked on his game under coach Gary Kirsten.
"If I have learned anything it that I need to focus more and I need to tighten my defence," Parthiv said. "He [Kirsten] was instrumental in me changing my thoughts with respect to approaching a match. For example in South Africa, he said that the ball moves a lot initially and the essential thing for me to do was to be on top of the ball. These are pretty basic things but the way he told me made a big impression.
"I have been working hard on my game and I now believe in my game more. That makes me more confident compared to in the past."
Also making a comeback is Manoj Tiwary, whose only ODI innings in 2008 was terminated early by a crushing Brett Lee yorker. Tiwary, who's part of the ODI squad for the West Indies tour, was beset by injuries and poor form and has taken a couple of seasons to work himself back in to contention. "I should be honest enough to admit that when I was bowled by a Brett Lee yorker in Brisbane, I wasn't matured enough. Now I have played three more seasons of first-class cricket," Tiwary told PTI. "I have done well in IPL against international bowlers. Definitely the confidence level and the self belief has improved."
Siddhartha Talya is a sub editor at ESPNcricinfo. Nagraj Gollapudi is an Assistant Editor at ESPNcricinfo