Sanju Samson is the first, and perhaps only, big name among current players that comes to mind when talking about Kerala cricket. It might not be long before Rohan Kunnummal
jostles for space there, especially if he can keep up his fantastic run in red-ball cricket.
Heading into the 2021-22 Ranji Trophy, in February this year, Kunnummal, the Kerala opener, featured in a solitary first-class game
. Nine months on, 24-year-old Kunnummal is playing the Duleep Trophy 2022-23 final for South Zone, and his 143 and 77 against North Zone in the semi-final
were key to taking South Zone to the title round. The overall numbers are impressive too: four centuries in seven first-class innings, three of them in successive Ranji innings; a total of 645 runs at an average of 107.50.
Since 2006 - from the time ESPNcricinfo has match-wise data available - only two other batters, Delhi's Yash Dhull and Madhya Pradesh's Aditya Shrivastava, have struck four centuries in their first seven first-class innings. Kunnummal and Shrivastava are the only ones to get six 50-plus scores in their first seven innings.
It's quite a start, you'd think. Except that Kunnummal made his senior state debut in 2016-17, and it's taken him all this time to make a mark.
"For me, it's like a fairy tale, nothing less," Kunnummal told ESPNcricinfo when asked about his run of form. "There has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes. But never did I dream about hitting four centuries in six innings, and I am so grateful for whatever is happening."
Having come up the ranks through age-group cricket in Kerala, Kunnummal made his Vijay Hazare Trophy (List A) debut in the 2016-17 season at the age of 19. He was also part of the India Under-19 set-up around that time, and played a four-day game against England
in 2017, without much to show for it.
Then came a slowdown - there weren't many runs, and the doors seemed to close on him. But when opportunity came knocking again earlier this year, he was determined to not miss out.
"This year I went in more focused and was trying to be more in the present," he said. "I was not thinking too much, not thinking about the past, and that is helping me a lot while batting. "Before that, I used to have a lot of confusion while batting - what to do, how to approach. This time I just trusted myself and went with my instincts.
"I don't believe that much in technique. It's just a matter of hitting the ball, that's it. However you play, you just want to middle the ball. Don't play the bowler; just play the ball. That's how I function"
"I believe that everyone has his time. Some things are not in our control. Everyone won't get success at 18 or 19 years of age."
Born in Palakkad and brought up in Kozhikode, Kunnummal was encouraged to try his hand at cricket by his father, Sushil, an offspinner in his university days. Kunnummal sharpened his skills at Sussex Cricket Academy in Kozhikode and, all these years later, is trying to be a new-age cricketer - red-ball basics plus white-ball strike rates.
"For me, it is to go hard from the first ball, put pressure on the bowler initially, and take advantage," he explained. "I don't believe that much in technique. It's just a matter of hitting the ball, that's it. However you play, you just want to middle the ball. Don't play the bowler; just play the ball. That's how I function. Just watch the ball and play. If we look at the names, there will be so much pressure."
At no stage, Kunnummal said, was there thought of looking for another career, even when there were no opportunities. "My family is so supportive; they have always said, 'you just play, and whatever happens, we'll take care of it'," he said. "They were backing me so much, and because of that, I have been able to play freely. Cricket is the only thing in my life."
On the back of a year to remember, Kunnummal now has his sights trained on an IPL deal. He has had a bit of a taste, having trialled with Chennai Super Kings and Mumbai Indians last year. If that chance comes, Kunnummal is confident of making it count. For now, there's a Duleep Trophy to win.
Ashish Pant is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo