To score a century in your maiden first class innings is a rare enought feat. To score centuries in your first two innings is even more uncommon. Tamil Nadu lefthander Hemant Kumar did just that in the 2000-01 Ranji Trophy season, joining an exclusive club comprising only three other Indians, Nari Contractor, PC Poddar and Sameer Dighe.
Making his debut in the final South Zone league tie against Kerala at Kochi, Hemant collected a measured 101 in the only innings he batted to ease Tamil Nadu into the knockouts. Next, in the pre-quarterfinals at the IIT-Chemplast ground in Chennai, he notched up 121 against a Delhi attack including Amit Bhandari, Robin Singh jr, Rahul Sanghvi and Virender Shewag.
Guyana's Joe Solomon is the only batsman in history to boast three tons in his first three knocks. The 21-year-old Hemant almost got there but a rare moment of indiscretion cost him dearly in the second innings against Delhi. Stepping out to the off spinner Virender Shewag, he overbalanced and was stumped for 87. Tamil Nadu's campaign was ended by Baroda in the quarters but Hemant clearly is an outstanding prospect for the future. CricInfo caught up with him in Chennai on Tuesday. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
On what motivated him to take up the game
I enjoy playing cricket. Actually I used to play with the tennis ball for fun on the streets. Then my uncle said why don't you go and join some other school and take it up seriously. I changed my school and joined Santhome which has a very good tradition in cricket. That year I played for my state Under-13 and from then on I took it up seriously.
On his experiences in junior cricket
Playing for India Under-19 against Sri Lanka was a blessing in disguise for me. I was not selected for the first five games in the South Zone league of the Cooch Behar Trophy (in 1998/99). Since that was my last year in the Under-19s, I thought I had no hope of playing for India Under-19. Suddenly they gave me a chance in the knockouts. I got back to back hundreds in the final against Punjab which was a very good team. Then I got selected for Rest of India in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy and finally for India. I never expected to play for India Under-19 but suddenly I was doing that.
On the events that got him a break in the Ranji Trophy team
I got runs in all the pre-season tournaments like the KSCA Diamond Jubilee, Moin-ud-Dowlah and the TNCA first division league. I got a lot of runs in my first five league games which was very important. It was very tough for a youngster to get into the Ranji Trophy side this time. That too a lefthander because a lot of lefthanders are there in the Tamil Nadu side. I got 2 100s and 2 50s in my first five games; that's when I thought I have a chance to play in the Ranji Trophy. I was motivated from then on to play for my state.
On his hundred on debut against Kerala
Yeah it was a nice feeling. Kerala were all out for 209, so we had all three days to bat. Since there was plenty of time, I played to get my eye in. I just said to myself that I'm not going to get out. I batted the whole day long and got only 80. But our team's position was such that if we got the first innings lead, we were through to the knockouts. It was a patient knock. I took my time to get my hundred, playing some 300 balls.
On his strengths
My strong point is my mind. I concentrate very well and don't lose it very often. I just take it ball by ball; it's just a matter of one ball at a time. You can't concentrate if you're going in with the idea of playing 90 overs. It will be a huge mountain then.
On his affinity for big innings
Half centuries don't get you into the limelight. even if you get 100 half centuries who is going to look. If you get 3-4 100s in a row, then you're in the limelight again. But it's very tough to get a hundred in every game. It's more important to just get in and settle down. If you get out before settling down, that's ok, no problem. But if you settle down and then get out, there's a problem in your technique or mind. You can't go into a game thinking about getting a hundred. There should be nothing on your mind. It should be clear, only then can you concentrate well.
On his weaknesses
There's scope for improvement in everything. You can't be saying I'm strong in this or that. I can't be satisfied with one cut shot for four and say I'm good in the cut. You have to improve day by day. It's just like a vast ocean and I'm just a drop in the ocean.
On his second century against Delhi
That was really very good. A lot of national players were there for Delhi, so it was a very competitive team. By getting runs against them, I thought I could get into the limelight; so I was very determined. That was a very good wicket, a superb wicket to bat on. I was very disappointed when I got out for 87 in the second innings. I saw the hundred in my eyes but it was just like a dream. It was a loss of concentration; one ball can get you out. I stepped out to the off spinner Virender Shewag and slipped, so I had no chance of getting back.
On the surrender in Baroda
We had a very good batting side. The target of 320 was easily attainable but we didn't apply ourselves well and got out very cheaply for 180. In the first innings the wicket was a batting paradise; we should have got the runs then. Later it was very tough batting fourth on that wicket. I got out at the wrong time (for 56, Tamil Nadu's top score in either innings). If I had stayed on, there was always a chance. You never know in cricket and there's nothing like winning a game for your state.
On his favourite position of No.3
Batting at No.3 is actually like opening the innings. If an opener gets out first ball, you're out there for the second ball. At No.4 and 5, at least you have the time to see the bowling. Here I get to play the new ball a lot which is an advantage for me because I just like to time the ball; I don't like to hit it much. I don't mind opening the innings if given the chance but we (Tamil Nadu) already have openers in Sriram and Ramesh.
On his goals for the next one year
My personal aim is to play for India. I don't mind whenever it comes.