Back on familiar ground,Mukund aims to strengthen Test tag

First steps: Tamil Nadu opener not worried about aspersions cast on his ability in the shorter formats

Written by Bharat Sundaresan | Mumbai | Published: June 2, 2012 4:00 am

There was hardly a Chennai Super Kings match where the roving camera didn’t pan on Abhinav Mukund,sitting in his franchise’s dug-out and flashing a portrait smile. Save a couple of flash interviews for television,the Tamil Nadu opener’s involvement with IPL 5 was pretty much restricted to showing off his pearly whites on the sidelines.

Being a reserve for the entire duration of an IPL edition wasn’t quite a unique predicament for Mukund though. Even the previous season of the T20 extravaganza was spent cheering his team from the periphery. Twelve months ago,however,his two-month long stint as a bench-warmer was book-ended with a tour to the West Indies. The sun was shining and the weather was sweet as always in the Caribbean. More importantly,what Mukund had to look forward to was his maiden overseas trip as a Team India player.

A year on,the gritty 22-year-old left-hander — in what must seem like a double deja vu — is back in sunny Barbados with the India A team. Unlike last June though,Mukund isn’t nursing any nerves this time around. Just an overwhelming desperation. To put his pads on and get cracking with the bat.

Mukund will be among the first names to be jotted into the final XI when India A take on West Indies A at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown on Saturday. Teammates Rohit Sharma,Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary,meanwhile,will be focused on transforming into their long-format avatars as quickly as possible.

In fact,following the two-month IPL frenzy,Indian cricket will be looking at shifting focus to more pressing matters — rectifying the horror-run of their senior team in Test cricket over the last 10 months. Starting with a strong showing by their fringe players in the Caribbean.

“I had a very good domestic season. It was obviously disappointing not getting a game during the IPL. But I had the pleasure of picking the brains of some really experienced guys like Mike Hussey,coach Stephen Fleming and Scott Styris. And that was an education on its own,” Mukund told The Indian Express.

Another India A team mate who hardly featured during the IPL was skipper Cheteshwar Pujara,who played just three games for Royal Challengers Bangalore. Just like with Pujara,many have cast aspersions on Mukund’s competence in limited-overs cricket too. As a result,he isn’t sure of getting a go in every game across the Caribbean islands. He isn’t overly bothered by it though.

Proud of Test tag

“It is rare for someone in my generation to be touted as a potential Test batsman. I am really proud of that tag. And the likes of Hussey and Rahul Dravid have told me that the transformation from the longer to shorter format is much easier,” says Mukund.

He adds,“Michael in fact told me that he couldn’t even hit a boundary in his hometown matches till he was 21-22. Look how he smacks the ball out of the ground so consistently now. The same is the case with the Dravids and the Kallises of the world. It’s a matter of sticking to what works for you.”

Having played three of his five Tests to date on Caribbean soil around the same time last year,Mukund is in some ways aware of the conditions he will be encountering over the next month.

While the likes of Pujara,Rohit and Rahane will be eying the gargantuan shoes left vacant by the now retired Rahul Dravid,Mukund is aware that his job is slightly more difficult considering that the Sehwag-Gambhir partnership is still very much in business.

“There are guys with 70-80 ODIs under their belt and those who are far more experienced. But the fact that most of them were with me on my previous ‘A’ tours two years ago,is a sign of how strong India’s bench-strength is,” adds Mukund.

Schedule: Four-day games: June 2 Barbados,June 9 St Vincent,June 16 St Lucia; T20S: June 23 Trinidad,June 24: Trinidad; ODIs: June 27 Grenada,June 29 Grenada,July 1 Grenada

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