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Abhimanyu Mithun's season of sustained aggression

Abhimanyu Mithun's five-wicket haul dismantled Vidarbha PTI

There are traits in Abhimanyu Mithun that are almost impossible to miss. His physicality is one of them. When he saunters in for a chat, you can see heavy chunks of muscle on his six-foot-two-inch frame. He has just completed a training session at Eden Gardens, and as he sits down he feels his heavily strapped right thigh. "Groin niggle," he says.

Mithun is no stranger to injuries. He lost most of last season to it. But there is a visible change in him this year. Mithun has come back stronger and more intense than ever, and his pace has gone up several notches. It was visible on Sunday when he tore Vidarbha apart with figures of 5 for 45, his third five-wicket haul of the season.

The source of the groin niggle he speaks of is from a year ago, when, at this same venue, against Delhi, Mithun tried out an experiment he now rues. Recommended to do so by a trainer, Mithun decided to remove his ankle braces for a session. The effects of the move were felt in Karnataka's next match, against Assam. Mithun pulled up after bowling only 10 balls in the first innings and missed Karnataka's next four games.

"Speak to any physio, and they will advise against making changes during the season," he tells ESPNcricinfo. "Because this is a long tournament. Your muscles adapt themselves to function a certain way and are used to doing the things you did before the season. They don't respond too well to sudden changes. It's tough, especially for a fast bowler.

"That (removing the braces) affected a different muscle. I removed it for one session and that transferred the pressure to my groin."

Mithun is now cautious about subjecting his body to such surprises. He has introduced new elements to his training, but is consistent with them. Technically, he worked on setting right his wrist position, which hung back a little more than ideal. It was particularly troublesome when he tried bowling the inswinger.

Now, his wrist is a lot straighter at delivery. It has given him more control with his lines and lengths. On Sunday, Mithun hardly strayed onto leg stump. His short balls were fired in at the middle-stump channel, cramping up the batsmen and giving them next to no time to react. Otherwise, he probed in the corridor outside off.

But what has made Mithun most dangerous this season is his ability to steam in without losing intensity over the course of a day. Mithun has bent his back for long periods and his body has held up through the rigours. These were the very qualities that had impressed the selectors when they picked him in India's Test squad to travel to Sri Lanka seven years ago.

On Sunday, he was at his paciest after lunch and hit the deck particularly hard during his three-wicket burst late into an extended second session. He caught Delhi off-guard in similar manner in Alur, where he snuffed out a set Dhruv Shorey and had Nitish Rana put down off him in a fiery post-lunch spell on the third day.

Changes in fitness regime have helped Mithun bowl with this sustained aggression. Always a lover of the weights room, Mithun now mixes it up with yoga. He is nimbler when he runs into the crease now and doesn't go stiff.

"Yoga has given me flexibility," he says. "It has also sped up my recovery process. Obviously when you play a full season of 11 matches, it takes a toll on your body. But I now recover much faster even between my first and second spells."

Mithun's love of physical fitness came to him early, partly from his father, a bodybuilder and gym instructor. Mithun was a discus-thrower before he became a fast bowler, and in his early years bowled a lot with the tennis ball. All of this gave him a solid base in terms of athleticism and power, but for someone who relies so heavily on his shoulder, it's a fight against time as he ages.

Mithun has taken inspiration from one of his mentors at Sunrisers Hyderabad when it comes to sustaining his fitness through his 30s.

"As a fast bowler, when you get older, you need to be more flexible," he says. "That's how Ashish [Nehra] bhai played till 39 years. Ashish bhai has a very flexible spinal cord. If you are flexible, you are in for the long run."

"Yoga has given me flexibility. It has also sped up my recovery process. Obviously when you play a full season of 11 matches, it takes a toll on your body. But I now recover much faster even between my first and second spells." Abhimanyu Mithun

The work he has put in behind the scenes has made Mithun quicker than he has been in some time. He now bowls at the sort of pace that thrust him into first-class cricket a mere three years after he first bowled with a cricket ball. It is the sort of pace that fetched him 47 wickets in his maiden first-class season - 11 on debut - and earned him a maiden international appearance three months later. It is what caught the eye of the then Royal Challengers Bangalore coach Ray Jennings ahead of the 2009 IPL trials. Mithun was an out-and-out fast bowler at a time when India didn't boast too many of them.

He has since not been anywhere near the national reckoning. He has floated between IPL teams, going to Mumbai Indians in 2015 and Sunrisers in 2016, but hasn't had a reasonable run to prove himself. But he has continued chipping away in domestic cricket, quietly becoming a prominent member of Karnataka's celebrated pace attack. His contribution to their title wins in 2013-14 and 2014-15 was a staggering 80 wickets. With his captain Vinay Kumar, Mithun has formed one of the most prolific new-ball combinations in the Ranji Trophy.

Mithun's most immediate aim personally is to establish himself in an IPL side. In working towards that, he realises the value of the time he is getting to spend in the Karnataka side. Helping Karnataka do well means earning more opportunities to prove himself. "Obviously, it's (IPL) become important. You need to do well there to take the next step. If we win the Ranji Trophy, we get to play the Irani Trophy.

"Playing for Karnataka is a matter of pride. These are guys whom I've played with since my juniors. Guys like Manish [Pandey], Karun [Nair]. Doing well in front of them, when these guys tell me I'm bowling well, that's the kind of thing that gives me satisfaction and motivation to perform. Winning matches for Karnataka makes me prouder."