For 30 hours, after getting out in the eight over of the first day, it would have been understandable if Abhinav Mukund had feared this would be the last time he played for India. However, it would still not have been as bad as 2012-13 season when a depressed Abhinav had told his father that he was going to quit the game. Nothing had gone right then: only 320 runs trickled in from 12 Ranji innings, rifts emerged within the Tamil Nadu team, IPL contract proved elusive, a county stint with Derbyshire fell through, and speculations grew that he was going to be dropped from the Ranji team.
All this after a bumper season previous year where he racked up 872 runs. He wouldn’t go out of his home, wouldn’t take calls from his friends and teammates, and cocooned himself in a self-imposed exile. It was then his father, a hard-hitting batsman in first-division state cricket, gave him the frank talk.
“See, your father spent nearly 15 years hoping to play for the state. It didn’t happen. You are only 23 and have played for India. So just imagine how much disappointed your dad should be. You’ve already made your dad and everyone proud. There’s nothing you stand to lose. Count your positives.”
Many positives emerged by the end of third day of what seemed his last Test.
Though he was out in the last over of the day, he had hit a fine 81, extended India’s lead to 498, and had already taken a spellbinding catch, and effected a sharp run out. The mood had turned from sympathy and pity to appreciation of the dogged attitude. Just as well he had listened to his ‘appa’ back then.
Shaken up by his dad’s words, he had promised that he will fight back. He burned all the negative energy in the gym and went back to the Tamil Nadu camp revived and re-energised. He worked with his father on his trigger movement — his back foot was not often static, a reason he perished to lbws several times that season.
The labour didn’t bear immediate fruits, but gradually he overcame the rough streak and scored a stroke-filled 240 against Saurashtra. “Thereafter, I began to take life more lightly, finding the fun side of it and enjoying the cricket even more,” he said. He waded his way back into the India squad last year against Bangladesh before ending his five-year Test-drought against Australia at Bengaluru.
The comeback Test hadn’t gone too well for him, and the start in Sri Lanka couldn’t have been worse. Not that it would have been alien feeling to him. Mukund was something of a prodigy in his early days, billed to represent Tamil Nadu, but remained in the fringes forever, content turning up for the minnow club, where he was fondly called “Mukka”.
He ended up watching similarly-plighted Shikhar Dhawan reel out a career-resuscitating hundred, and his teammates stacking up 600 runs. Maybe, he wouldn’t even get a second go. Maybe, he might have played his Test innings. Maybe, it’s that desperation, the desperation of a man at his limits, that gave him the extra spring in his step when he came out to field. Here he was, under the batsman’s nose, lunging and flying, leaping and rushing to stop anything that flew past his radar.
The frame of him—standing still, uncoiled—when Upul Tharanga stepped out to loft Ravichandran Ashwin—conceded the impression of a man yet unwilling to give up. After effecting the run out, he took a blinder of Niroshan Dickwella at silly point. He didn’t seem the same man who muffed a sitter off Steve Smith in Pune. Abhinav laughs when reminded of it, and says: “I would have taken that catch 99 out of the 100 times. It haunted me a couple of times,” he said.
Having illustrated his utility on the field, Abhinav was fully assured and composed, disciplined and opportunistic, motoring serenely, when his turn to bat came.
His penchant to cut stood out, as were his flicks and on-drives. He would have been happier had he remained unbeaten, and probably completed his maiden hundred on Saturday. But this time, he ascertains, he wouldn’t contemplate on it: “Obviously, a hundred would have made it better. But to have this opportunity to be part of the Indian team is such a huge bonus and I take every game as an opportunity, that’s all.”
Kohli back in form
It was just seven innings ago that Virat Kohli scored a double hundred, against Bangladesh but talks were rife as how the Indian captain’s form has slumped and how he has become increasingly vulnerable to short-pitch bowling. But with an innings that exuded authority, he slashed those untoward fears and sent an ominous portent for the Sri Lankan bowlers in the rest of the series.