In social media discussion forums, Rohan Kunnummal has already been hailed as ‘Kerala Sehwag’. It is tempting to address any opener who plays with unbridled freedom with a Sehwag suffix, but it is an apt moniker for Rohan at the moment. Like the former India swashbuckler, he hits a lot of fours, that too, for a sustained period, and his strike rate is format-agnostic.
In six first-class games so far, Rohan has an average of 96 and a strike rate of 83. In 16 List A games, those numbers read 55 and 102 respectively. The run glut has not gone unnoticed as the national selectors picked the 24-year-old right-hander in the India ‘A’ squad touring Bangladesh for two four-day games. It is a step closer to realising the ultimate dream of playing for the country for the run-machine from Kozhikode.
“To be honest, I did not expect to be selected for India ‘A’. I’m pleasantly surprised and looking forward to this opportunity. My ultimate aim is to play for the national team and win a World Cup for the country. Hopefully, I can keep performing at this level,” Rohan told indianexpress.com from Kolkata while on his way to Bangladesh.
Rohan, who sustained an ankle injury during his Ranji Trophy debut in 2020 and was out of action for around six months, credits the fitness transformation he underwent during the Covid pandemic for his consistent brilliance. “I was a very lean guy and did not have much strength. It was after I started taking strength-training seriously in 2020 that I have been able to play longer innings. If your body is not fit, you get tired easily and won’t be able to recover from one match to another. I owe a lot to Kerala team’s fitness trainer Vysakh Krishna, who took care of my training needs and made sure that I have the fitness to perform at my peak ability match after match,” he said.
Vysakh says Rohan was underweight and injury-prone earlier. “Most of his previous injuries, including the one he suffered during his Ranji Trophy debut game, happened because of his lack of strength. He is very skilful and technically very sound. So the only problem he had was his fitness issues,” said Vysakh.
“After he recovered from his ankle injury, we started from scratch. He is someone who practises batting for up to three hours daily. So the skill load is always high for him and I did not want him to sacrifice that. So I structured his diet and training plans to help him gain lean mass. As two or three meals a day were not enough for his training load, we added a few more to his diet and regularly tested his vital parameters. He gained almost 8 kg in six months. Once he improved his strength, he became faster and more powerful. That reflected positively in his batting too,” Vysakh added.
Rohan says he does not eat meat, chicken or fish and depends on eggs, around 14 a day, vegetables and sprouts to meet his required protein intake.
Rohan’s father Sushil Kunnummal also pinpoints the improvement in fitness as the reason for his son’s success. “Earlier, his hands used to get tired as he reached 60 or 70 runs. With increased strength, now he is able to carry on for longer periods. He never really had to struggle for runs throughout his career. If he bats for 80 balls, on most days, he would reach 100,” said Sushil.
He also shares an interesting nugget that may explain Rohan’s mastery in finding the boundary. “Even when we practised in our backyard, I used to tell him to play as if there are 11 players of the other team on the field at certain positions and play according to that field. I’ve always asked him to not look for where the fielders are but look for the gaps. Maybe, it’s because of that habit from a young age that he finds gaps more frequently than most players.”
With 769 runs from 9 first-class innings, including four centuries, Rohan now has a reasonable chance to become the fastest Indian to 1,000 first-class runs. That record is jointly held by Amol Muzumdar, Rusi Modi and Yashasvi Jaiswal, who all reached the landmark in 13 innings. If he keeps up his form, he is likely to break the record on the tour to Bangladesh which begins on November 29.
Rohan is going to Bangladesh after guiding Kerala into the knockout stage of the Vijay Hazare Trophy with 414 runs from seven games, including two centuries and a fifty. His rich vein of form is likely to attract intense bidding in next month’s IPL auction. Rohan, who attended trials of Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Capitals and Kolkata Knight Riders, is also hopeful of playing in the IPL but not worried about the auction. For the moment, his focus is only on the gaps in the field.