Abhinav Mukund marked his 100th Ranji Trophy game for Tamil Nadu with a match-winning hundred in a session against Railways at Chepauk last month. The 30-year old is on the brink of another landmark: he's 34 runs away from reaching 10,000 first-class runs. In the following chat with ESPNcricinfo, Abhinav looks back on his 13-year career on the eve of Tamil Nadu's away match against Baroda, in the penultimate round of Ranji Trophy 2019-20.
From being the 'baby' in WV Raman's Tamil Nadu side back in the day, you've evolved into a senior pro. How do you look back on your career?
It has been a natural progression. Getting to 100 Ranji games or 10,000 first-class runs - I still haven't got to 10,000 yet - is something that does not happen overnight and it has taken a while. I hadn't imagined that this would happen when I played my first game. It's actually a good feeling.
To be honest, every season has been a challenge. As years go by, there's a lot of life into you as well. From 17 years old you're just playing cricket, then by 21-22 you're thinking how you're probably going to be playing for your country. And you think why you're not playing for the country. I think that's a journey in itself. And I'm glad I've been aware of my journey - where life has taken me in this 13th year as a first-class cricketer. It makes a lot of sense for me to say that this has been something that has evolved through a process. It has not come easy no doubt, but I've thoroughly enjoyed doing what I do. That's definitely something I'm really grateful for.
Your good friend Dinesh Karthik has also been part of your journey. Your 100th match coincided with Karthik becoming the most-capped first-class cricketer for Tamil Nadu…
The journey has given me one of my good friends Dinesh who has been part of most of my games that I've played for Tamil Nadu. He had started out much earlier than I did and over the years we've built our friendship on many, many, many Ranji Trophy games and it's something that has happened over time. He's much older than me, and I've always looked up to him. I've gone to him when I needed advice and yes we've shared a lot of good moments together. It was really special to share the moment with him in that game - considering both of us had missed previous games and we played two rounds together.
You have a triple-century to your name, and almost 12 years later you hit a century in a single session. How do you rate that?
It's different, and it's probably something that a lot of people might put it past me. I didn't go out thinking that I will score a hundred in a session. In fact, we lost the toss and they (Railways) were batting first. Usually, you don't get ready to bat right after lunch on the first day. I just went in there, hit a couple of boundaries, and things just fell in place there.
It wasn't an easy wicket to bat on, I think, and there was some assistance for the spinners. I didn't want them to settle, so I went ahead and played my shots and it was good when it came off.
"If you're going to play for 13 years, nobody is going to turn up and say: 'I was successful all these years.' If they do, then they're probably lying. Everyone goes through a bad patch whether at the start of at the middle of the season, but it's important that the quicker you come out of it, the better it is for you."
Can you recall the most memorable Ranji game you were part of?
I feel my memory has been a strength and a weakness for me. I remember most of games that I've played and there're a lot of good memories.
Tamil Nadu beating Karnataka in the quarter-final in 2016 up there? Didn't you miss the closing stages of the game because of illness?
Oh yeah, I was very sick that game, and I remember that game also ended in two days. Personally, if you ask me I would go back to 2011, when we played Haryana at home. It was one of the better innings I played, I think. I got a double-hundred. They got 348. I batted from No.1 to No.11 - I was the last man to be dismissed - and that's one of the games that I remember quite vividly. Again, it was a good attack; they had [Yuzvendra] Chahal and [Amit] Mishra.
The most challenging bowlers you've come across?
Probably playing out somebody like Pankaj Singh, Vinay Kumar and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. These are guys I've had intense battles with over the years. I've also got hundreds against these teams, but I've also failed.
Many players keep grinding in domestic cricket, but they often go unnoticed. And there's also no guarantee that performers might get the chance at a higher level. How have you dealt with that?
There's no guarantee for anybody in life. It (the domestic grind) matures you as a player and person to be really honest because you've given it your all. You keep travelling and it's long. But, it has given me a lot of lessons, especially as a person individually. And, to be honest, I did stop enjoying the game midway somewhere and it has been well-documented. But, I did realise that I started playing the game for a reason and I'm enjoying the challenge.
You'd touched upon the fact that whether you score runs or not, you didn't let it affect your happiness as a person?
Every cricketer goes through such difficult times. If you're going to play for 13 years, nobody is going to turn up and say: "I was successful all these years." If they do, then they're probably lying. Everyone goes through a bad patch whether at the start or at the middle of the season, but it's important that the quicker you come out of it, the better it is for you.
But, I'm really enjoying playing for Tamil Nadu. We've got a couple of more games to go and it's really heartening to see a lot of talented, young guys coming in. A lot of these young guys look up to people like Dinesh, [R] Ashwin - when he's playing - and me. It's important we set a good example for them and that's something we're trying to do.
Do you feel it's important to have a life outside cricket?
It is sometimes difficult. I didn't have enough time to complete a degree because I was playing and on the road. There are multiple days you spend in the hotel room without doing much on the road. You have to learn to keep yourself occupied on the road. You can watch movies on the go - on Netflix and Amazon Prime - these days. Earlier, you could have picked up a book and read. It's about survival, which is under-rated, I think, but you have to do the travel because you enjoy playing the sport.
Has doing commentary given you a fresh perspective on your game?
I've believed that I shouldn't curtail myself in doing something that I want to do. Commentary is something that I've enjoyed doing. Yes, it has given a different perspective. When you're playing, you think only about winning the game. Here, you are looking at both teams objectively and trying to figure out what they're doing to outwit each other. It's an interesting take. I've always felt it has given me an edge because I'm passionate about the game and even sitting at home I've called games with my parents or my wife.
I was actually watching the Mushtaq Ali final at home, and I called it. I felt that something was going wrong for Tamil Nadu and I was absolutely devastated to watch. [Vijay Shankar's run-out] was the game.
"I remember going AWOL on everyone for a while and one of my closest friends - you can call him even a mentor - asked me what I can do to make me feel better or get back into the Indian team. He said kadhava adachu oda [barge the door] and it was a motivating factor for me."
There's this perception that you're just a red-ball player. But, you were the top scorer in the 2018-19 Vijay Hazare Trophy and extended your fine form earlier this season. Has that perception bothered you?
Perceptions are always going to be there. There are people on the outside to be critical, and everyone has an opinion. It's normal in this day and age. But, I don't take these too seriously and I believe that I'm a good cricketer and good enough to survive in different conditions. I think I've done a fairly decent job and I'm not worried about these perceptions.
How did #bargethedoor come about, on most of your social media posts?
I remember going AWOL on everyone for a while and one of my closest friends - you can call him even a mentor - asked me what I can do to make me feel better or get back into the Indian team. He was very real about it. I'm not going to come across as a very eye-catching batsman or do something spectacular - it's probably never going to come to me. I might probably score a hundred in a session.
He said kadhava adachu oda (barge the door) and it was a motivating factor for me. A lot of people have caught onto it on social media.
Tamil Nadu had an excellent white-ball season, but the form has dipped in the red-ball format. Do you think the younger batsmen need to work more on adjusting to the longer format?
With the domestic season being so cramped, it does require time to adjust from white-ball to red-ball cricket. These are different balls - one swings a lot more than the other. Red-ball cricket is more about patience and more awareness about conditions. I've played league cricket with these (younger) guys at home and I know for a fact that they're willing to put in the hard yards. There's scope for improvement, but we still are not where we need to be. Winning the Ranji Trophy: it's important that everyone has that goal in mind. If we can move on and make the knockouts, probably winning is the goal. I'm sure these are good lessons for that.