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Mukesh Kumar's old-school virtues make immediate impact on India A debut

He made the batters play more often than his seam-bowling colleagues, and ended the day with three key wickets

Daya Sagar
Daya Sagar
Mukesh Kumar finished with figures of 5 for 86  •  Mallikarjuna/KSCA

Mukesh Kumar finished with figures of 5 for 86  •  Mallikarjuna/KSCA

When India A lost the toss in their unofficial Test against New Zealand A and were asked to bowl first, all eyes were on the seam duo of Yash Dayal and Arzan Nagwaswalla, perhaps for understandable reasons.
Both offer the left-arm angle, both are known for their accuracy, and while Dayal is coming into the new season on the back of an IPL-winning run with Gujarat Titans, Nagwaswalla has been an India A regular for a while now.
As it turned out, the first day honours went to Mukesh Kumar, the 28-year-old Bengal seamer turning out for India A for the first time in his career. As it turned out, Mukesh received his India A cap ahead of the game from bowling coach Sairaj Bahutule, who had been Bengal's coach when he first turned out for them in 2015.
On a day when the clouds played hide-and-seek with the sun for the most part, before a downpour brought proceedings to a halt well before time, Mukesh picked up three big wickets in his 13 overs, conceding just 34 runs in the process. New Zealand went to stumps at 156 for 5.
Mukesh bowled at good pace throughout the day, and his experience came through in how he made the opposition play at a much greater percentage of his deliveries compared to the others who bowled seam on the day.
"My only plan was to make the batters play as often as possible," he said at the end of the day. "This was something I had discussed before with the bowling coach. On Indian pitches, you neither get great pace nor obtain enough bounce. This makes the cut and the pull slightly tougher as shot options.
"My plan was to pitch the ball as far up as possible and make them play. I aimed to get at least four or five balls in each over right up, so that the batter was forced to play rather than leave."
Over each of the past three Ranji Trophy seasons, Mukesh has taken 20-plus wickets at averages of less than 25, and he provided an insight into that consistency as early as the fifth over of the morning. He rushed opener Chad Bowes into an indiscreet pull off a short ball that went into his body, and his top edge flew towards short fine leg, where Ruturaj Gaikwad completed a fine catch running from the slips cordon.
After lunch, he got the ball to come back into opposition captain Robert O'Donnell and wicketkeeper Cam Fletcher, trapping both in front. "I am actually a natural outswing bowler, and I am just grateful to god that sometimes these balls pitch and move back in on their own," was his unusual take on his two leg-before victims. "Of the last of my wickets today, I was actually looking to get the ball to move away, but it went the other way and gave me a wicket."
Originally from Gopalganj in Bihar, Mukesh was 20 by the time he played any organised cricket. His father drove a taxi in Kolkata, and a time came when he asked his son to join him in the city. He began playing club cricket to earn his daily income, and grabbed eyeballs at the Cricket Association of Bengal's (CAB) 'Vision 2020' trials in 2014. It accelerated his progress into becoming one of Bengal's bowling spearheads; higher honours may come his way too, in due course.
Mukesh is matter-of-fact about his journey. "Stories like mine are common," he says. "Everyone has their own story. My aim is to play for India - I'm giving my 100% to be able to achieve this."

Daya Sagar is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo Hindi. @dayasagar95