Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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There is evident disappointment in Akshath Reddy's voice as he talks about his first-class debut, against Rajasthan in 2010. Not only was he dismissed for 6 and 0, his side Hyderabad were bundled out for 21 in the first innings, the lowest score in Ranji Trophy history. It was the start of a forgettable season for Akshath, where he managed all of 154 runs at 25.66 in five matches.
The next five seasons were more fruitful; he scored 3072 runs at 54.85, with ten hundreds and 13 fifties in 39 Ranji Trophy games. The breakout season, though, came only in 2018-19 when he made 797 runs for Hyderabad, including a career-best 250.
Thursday, the opening day of his latest Duleep Trophy outing for India Green, was a microcosm of his career. He had a scratchy start, followed by a period of stability, before showing he belonged at this level. By stumps, his 146 was instrumental in taking India Green to 308 for 4.
With conditions helping seamers in the morning, Akshath and Faiz Fazal were tested by the India Red fast bowlers, Jaydev Unadkat in particular. Fazal hit a couple of drives - when the bowlers pitched up in search of a nick - before mistiming a pull off Avesh Khan to Sandeep Warrier at fine-leg.
Akshath was living dangerously at the other end. Unadkat even forced an outside edge but the ball flew between slips and gully, but just like Fazal, he too found boundaries when the bowlers erred. When the ball got a bit softer, and the spinners came on, Akshath hit Akshay Wakhare for two successive fours - a slog sweep followed by a back-foot punch - to bring up his fifty.
But from the other end, Aditya Sarwate continued to trouble him. Just before lunch, the left-arm spinner almost had him stumped before beating the outside edge in the same over.
His partner Dhruv Shorey, though, took the aggressive route and hit Sarwate over deep midwicket for a six to take the side past 100 before Avesh broke the 85-run second-wicket stand between the two by dismissing Shorey for 44.
But Akshath had his eye in by then, and Sarwate bore the brunt of it. In the second over after lunch, he punched Sarwate off the back foot through extra cover for four. Soon after, Sarwate was dispatched over mid-off and over square leg in the same over for two more boundaries.
Unadkat returned for another spell but Akshath creamed him through the covers to wake the fielders up on a sleepy afternoon as he moved to 96. In the next over, he skipped down to Sarwate and smashed a full toss to the deep-midwicket boundary to bring up his hundred, off 174 balls.
Once he had reached his milestone, he started stamping his authority. Sarwate, who had troubled him in the morning, was reverse-swept for four more before being launched down the ground for pair of sixes. Akshath and Siddhesh Lad added 137 for the third wicket, with Lad scoring a free-flowing 64.
But with just six overs left in the day's play, Akshath played one shot too many. Trying to slog sweep Sarwate, he holed out to deep midwicket. It felt like there were still plenty of runs on offer but it was a wicket donated, something he can ill-afford to do given the tough competition among openers at the domestic level - the likes of Abhimanyu Easwaran, Priyank Panchal and Ruturaj Gaikwad are ahead of him in the pecking order.
"I shouldn't be throwing away my wicket like this," Akshath admitted after the day's play. "I should be focusing on playing as long as possible and keep piling up runs. Make sure whenever I get an opportunity, I score big. You have to perform extraordinarily to get into even India A side with that kind of competition. So I am trying to focus on this season to get as many runs possible, not get out like this when I have an opportunity and there is another three days' of play. I gave away a good opportunity."
But while the competition used to make him nervous till a season ago, focusing just on own his performance has helped him of late. "When there is competition, there is always anxiety to perform well. But right now I am just focusing on playing good cricket rather than focusing on the results," he said.
"[In the last couple of years] I worked on the mental aspect. I was getting around 500 runs or so every season but wasn't able to score those big runs. Last season I got out on 99 also [against Himachal Pradesh]. I don't want to make those mistakes again. I am mentally in a much better space now, so I just trying to focus on getting runs."
Akshath might have missed an opportunity to score a real big hundred here but 146 is not a bad start to the season. The important thing is that he continue in the same way and make sure to eradicate those errors from here on in.