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From sleepless nights to soaring heights, Abhinav Manohar lives his IPL dream

The 27-year old Karnataka finisher was bought for INR 2.6 crores by Gujarat Titans

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
When Abhinav Manohar got picked to play for Karnataka as a 27-year-old last November, he was the second one from his family to play professional cricket. Sharanya Sadarangani, his first cousin, currently represents the German women's national team.
On Saturday, Abhinav added another feather to the family cap when he was signed by Gujarat Titans at the IPL auction. The Hardik Pandya-led team overcame a fierce bidding war with Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals to secure his services as a finisher. Abhinav's eventual contract of INR 2.6 crore (USD 346,000 approx.) was 13 times his base price.
It was quite the turn. Five years ago, he returned dejected from a trial with Mumbai Indians after he had "failed to bat to potential" when asked to achieve a certain target during a practice match. But having gone back this time, not just to Mumbai but to a few other teams as well, he was quietly confident of breaking into the IPL. To the extent that the entire family had parked themselves on the couch to watch the auction proceedings live.
"I've not been sleeping well, have hardly been getting 3-4 hours of sleep a night for the past week," Abhinav tells ESPNcricinfo. "Just the excitement and nervousness of 'will I get picked or will I not get picked?', I guess. It's been on my mind and [Saturday] was a bit too much. I haven't processed it fully. I guess it will take me a couple of days. We were all watching it at home together.
It's a remarkable rise, because until three months ago, Abhinav wasn't even on Karnataka's selection radar. A shrunk domestic calendar thrown in disarray due to Covid-19 left open the possibility of him losing another year. Abhinav was prepared mentally, and thought he'd give himself time until 30 to make a mark in cricket with "no back-up options". And then out of nowhere came a ray of hope.
He had the backing of runs in club cricket for Bangalore United Cricket Club (BUCC) in KSCA's first-division league. But he'd had that for three seasons now. The only difference this time was Karnataka needed to shore up their batting. Karun Nair's form had been patchy, and they wouldn't have the services of Devdutt Padikkal, Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul for the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s. Enter Abhinav.
Until then, he only had a reputation of being a big-hitter in local cricket. This was going to be a real test. But even before he could soak in the feeling of having made his debut, he was walking out to avert a crisis against Saurashtra. Karnataka had slipped to 34 for 3 in pursuit of 146, and needed a bailout. Abhinav not only did that, but saw the team home in a tense final-over finish. By the time he walked off the field, he had hit four fours and six sixes in his 49-ball 70. He finished the SMA T20s with 162 runs in four innings at a strike rate of 150.
Then in the final against Tamil Nadu, he showed the ability to rotate strike and take the innings deep. Karnataka were three down for 32 inside the Powerplay, and needed a revival. Abhinav started slowly on a sluggish surface, but recovered to finish with a 37-ball 46 that helped put up a total of 152. It nearly proved enough, but for Shahrukh Khan's last-ball six.
Following the scores from back in Bengaluru was his proud coach Irfan Sait. Abhinav's father and Sait ran their business establishments on the same lane in Bengaluru's commercial street many years ago. The Manohars ran a footwear store and Sait had a clothing store. This acquaintance turned into friendship, before Sait took Abhinav under his wing at his cricket academy.
Sait trains hundreds of children and admits that initially, Abhinav was just like any other trainee. But four years in, he noticed how his commitment stood out. As he approached 14-15, where children, and their parents, decide between pursuing studies or cricket, Abhinav showed no signs of slowing down. And when he scored a century after copping a blow on his forehead, Sait knew his ward had the wares to succeed.
"Arshad Ayub would send an Under-14 team from Hyderabad every summer for matches, and we would put together our best teams across age-groups. Abhinav made it to this team and in one of the games, got a quickfire century after getting hit on the forehead. That made everyone sit up and take note of this boy's batting, especially the big-hitting prowess."
"Generally at that age, kids are careless, and can be reckless with their stroke play. The opposite happened with Abhinav. He suddenly went into a defensive mode for a while, and that became detrimental to his game. His natural game was to attack, and as he made it through to Under-16s and Under-19s, that natural game returned. It took a while though for him to make some changes."
Abhinav needed to transform in other ways too. Having battled weight issues as a teenager, he worked on not just slimming down but also developing a regimen that has helped aid his big hitting. He has taken a leaf out of Rahul and Manish Pandey's training routines and follows that to the hilt. Among his goals is to become an all-format player.
"To play for Karnataka is a big thing. It can be as hard as breaking into the Indian team," he says. "The batting line-up is full of stars, and me being a batsman, after age-group, you wonder what you're doing. You think if you will get a chance, how long will it take? Luckily my parents didn't put pressure on me to get a job. My father just said keep trying and things will fall in place. Glad it has."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo