Thursday, September 20, 2007

Abhinav Mukund

Has potential to be a solid India opener
Its been close to 3 decades since the emergence of the last TN bat who made it big on the international scene. Srikkanth, who made his debut in 1981-82, stayed on for a decade and carved a name for himself as the man who created a new approach to playing the first 15 overs of a one dayer.

Over the last 25 years or so, there have been several players from TN who have made it to the Indian team but their stint have all been short lived( for varied reasons). LS, VB, M. Venkatramana, B. Arun, WV Raman (current TN Chief Coach), S. Ramesh, S. Sriram, Hemang Badani, M. Karthik and L. Balaji have played for India but only a few tests/one dayers. Robin Singh did manage to remain on the scene for a few years in the one day circuit.

I am picking a TN cricketer here (Opener again!!) who I believe will play for India, for a long time at that, and will end up as an opener with the best defensive technique after Sunil Gavaskar.
Abhinav Mukund, the 17 year old south paw from Mylapore, Madras doing his first year B. Com at Vivekananda College, recently scored a stunning double hundred and a century in the same test playing for India Under 19 against Sri Lanka.

I first saw Abhinav a decade ago, in 1997, and actually bowled to him on several occasions that year at the Vivekananda College Ground nets. Even at that tender age of 7, I found him very passionate and committed ( he would be at Viveka at sharp 6am even before the ground gate opened). He would bat for half hour under the watchful eyes of CS Umapathy, his first coach and would then pick up the red cherry and turn his arm over with his leg breaks, much like his father, TS. Mukund. And would then leave for Vidya Mandir by 730am. In those early days, Umapathy was the one who taught Abhinav the basics of defence.

His background
Abhinav comes from quite a cricketing family. Father TS Mukund played almost two decades of First Division cricket (He was also in the TN Ranji and Subbiah Pillai squad in the mid 80s) and when he moved into lower division cricket in the late 1990s, he spun every single team he played for, into promotion into a higher division - quite a unique record.

Abhinav’s mother Lakshmi Mukund played cricket for South Zone University. His uncle TS Mohan(played for RBI) is regarded as one of the best coaches, especially on the fielding front. To this day, cricketers dread the prospect of a fielding session under TS Mohan. Another of Abhinav’s uncle, TS Manohar, still plays for Indian Airlines. And his grandfather was a cricketer too!!!

The beginning
The first aspect I noticed even then watching Abhinav bat was his ability to let the ball go, something of a rarity these days. With a solid defence and the patience he displayed, it was no surprise that his father wanted him to become an opener.

Abhinav had been watching cricket from the age of 3 when his father used to take him to the ground for his matches (2 day first division league those days). He had his father for his coach through the early ‘foundation years’ of his cricket. TS Mukund put him through a rigorous daily schedule- waking up at 515am, nets for 90mts in the morning, school and then a couple of hours at the nets in the evening, followed by watching a cricket video (many times the batting of Lara). Much of the dinner discussion also centered around cricket.

Age Group Cricket
In his first ever school match, when he was under 9 years, he batted almost through the 30 overs to score 26 runs. Abhinav has come a long way from there.

A year later, Abhinav scored his first ever century ( for his school in an U10 match). At 12, he scored back to back centuries for TN in the U13 tournament including a knock of 192. In 2004-05, he captained the TN U15 team (he had captained TN U13 team as well) and led them to the South Zone championship. TN finished runner up losing to Delhi in the All India finals.

Even before he had turned 15, he was already representing the state in U15, U17 and U19.

Entry into League Cricket
He began with Division V cricket playing for Harnath in 2001-02. The next year, playing for Egmore Club in the 4th Division, he scored 350 plus runs in the season. He gained instant recognition and Indian Bank chose him to play for them in the 2nd Division in the 2003-04 season at the age of 13. That year he came up with two gems. He scored a century against Bunts, but more importantly Abhinav played one of his best knocks to date on a square turner against SBI that had two experienced off spinners, Kubendran and VijaySarathi- a half century that gave him a lot of confidence to play against top quality off spinners. He scored over 400 runs that season in the 2nd division.

Bad Phase
2005-06 saw him go through a bad phase. Playing for TN state U17, Abhinav failed badly in the first 2 matches(plus one match was washed out). But what was commendable was the way he came out of this phase. Abhinav views his then U17 coach, J. Gokulakrishnan, the former TN Ranji cricketer, as one of his best coaches and credits Gokulakrishnan for bringing him out of the poor rut he had got into.

The season saw a damp start with preparations being hampered by heavy rains, so much so that they had to practice indoors. With spinners coming on earlier than usual, Abhinav found it difficult to come to terms with the turning ball and fell continuously for low scores.

When asked what he did to get Abhinav back on track, Gokulakrishnan recounts those few days, with a great deal of pride, “ It was a very difficult tour for all the boys. The pitch turned square. We had very little practice outside, in the sun. With Abhinav, it was a question of an adjustment to his technique and the way he played the turning ball. I asked him to get into the line of the ball, to wait till the last moment to play and also to apply himself to the task. I said the same thing to all the boys but it was amazing to see how Abhinav transformed himself so quickly.”
Gokulakrishnan goes on, “His 160 against Goa showed how quick a learner he was. He grasped the finer points of what I said. More importantly, it was very clear that he wanted to come out of that low phase. And he did it in style.”
“As a coach, it also gave me a great deal of satisfaction that a young kid could grasp the deficiencies so quickly and turn around as fast as he did. He showed maturity far beyond his age.”
NCA(National Cricket Academy)

He was inducted into the NCA in May 2004 and has been at the NCA every year since, so much so that he is now said to be a veteran at the NCA. At the NCA, he has improved his game under the watchful eyes of Bhaskar Pillai (the unlucky Delhiite who plundered runs in the 1980s) and Parthasarathy Sharma. The video analysis and personalized feedback at the NCA has helped Abhinav immensely in correcting any technical faults. Very interestingly, Abhinav also stopped eating Appalams completely after feedback from the NCA( He used to have 5-6 a day previously).

Century in 1st Division at 16
At the age of 16, he scored a century in first division league against a top notch Jolly Rovers attack comprising of L. Balaji, Tinu Yohanan and Jesuraj. He followed that up with three 80 plus knocks in successive matches against MRF, India Pistons and India Cements. He scored over 400 runs that season( he had not played the full season because of U17/U19 commitments). Also, in 2006-07, he got a double hundred in all India U17 tourney.

His first (formal) overseas tour
In July this year, he went on his first official overseas tour (his father had earlier taken him to England to play a few matches for Kent minor county), to SriLanka, as part of the India U19 team. After low scores in the initial phase of the tour, Abhinav Mukund put up a sterling performance in the 2nd test with a double century and a century in the same test. These two knocks earned him many words of appreciation from the team’s coach Lalchand Rajput (read the exclusive interview with him), who helped him a great deal on the tour to face the moving Kookubara ball. This spectacular performance immediately earned him a place in the TN team for the Buchi Babu tournament in August and for the Moin-ud-Dowla tourney in Hyderabad.

Key Milestones

1999-2000 - First century when he was not yet 10
Oct 2002 - Back to Back centuries for TN in U13 tournament
2002-03 - Over 350 runs in IV Division league for Egmore Club
2003-04 - Century against Bunts in the 2nd division(13 years)
May 2004 - Inducted into the NCA
2004-05 - Captained TN U15 to South Zone championship, finished runner up in national U15 losing to Delhi in the finals
2006-07 - Century against a strong Jolly Rovers attack in first division league
2006-07 - Double hundred against Tripura in U17
2006-07 - MRF signed a contract with him for his cricket gear
July 07 - Double century and a hundred in the U19 test against SL
Aug07 - Selected in the TN Buchi Babu team, scored 92 against Assam

Abhinav’s Education
While he has had good amount of success on the field, he has not de-focused on his education. He secured around 90% in Class X and around 85% in Class XII. That’s exceptional for a boy, who has been at one ground or the other most of the time in the last 3 years and had an attendance of around 15% in class XII. Credit for this should go entirely to his mother Lakshmi who used to write notes for him and get him up to speed, when he came back from matches. Vivekananda College had already booked him (to join) even while he was just 15 years (yes, 2 years ahead of time).

StrengthsHas one of the best defences (for his age)
Mentally very strong, determined and a positive ‘want to succeed’ attitude
Consistent scores over the last 4 years – U13 -U15 -U17 and now U 19
A good thinker of the game
Strong onside player, very strong of the back foot- has a good cut and pull
Areas of concern
In 7- 8 years of cricket, he has not seen too many lows - will be interesting to see how he tackles failures
His technique against the moving ball will be tested at higher levels- to strengthen ‘front of the wicket’ game Focus on bowling could be a distraction
(Several former Ranji cricketers I spoke to, think that his bowling could be a value add. This writer believes that Abhinav should focus on being a ‘great opener’ than a batsman who can also be a utility bowler. The best of opening batsmen have all been pure play openers. And being a leg spinner, he will require that much more practice in the nets. It may be a sacrifice he may have to make, but may be worth considering)

What he must guard himself fromOver dose of matches currently - so could be stressed out if he doesn’t relax
Advice on ‘technique’ from different players

The Future- What’s in StoreAt 17, Abhinav’s eyes are now set on his Ranji debut. If all goes well, he should make his debut this season (read TN selector interview) and should be batting alongside Anirudh Srikkanth before the end of the season(Anirudh incidentally has had a brilliant start to the league season, amassing over 500 runs in the first round of matches and has been in form in Moin-ud-Dowla as well). Another big opportunity for Abhinav this season could be the under 19 World Cup (in February 2008).

ConclusionThe last time I was excited about a young TN cricketer, with an aggressive attitude to succeed, was 20 years ago, when I watched S. Sriram (he was about 10-11 years then) bowl tirelessly at the TSR YMCA nets. One thing that worried me even then about Sriram was his interest to also focus on batting. In the end, he turned into a batsman in the 1990s and lost his once beautiful flight, arc and turn.

Abhinav has brought to me the same excitement as Sriram did 2 decades ago. So far, the road has been smooth for Abhinav with TNCA providing him all the opportunities to establish himself at the junior level. More importantly, Abhinav has remained focused and has not been carried away by the early successes he has had (at U13/U15 and U 17 levels). With over 50 centuries already under his belt, I believe Abhinav, at 17, is now all set to make the jump into the next higher level- Ranji Cricket.

One of the big issues with TN cricket has been not providing opportunities at the right time to budding cricketers, thus delaying their entry into top notch cricket. Luckily for Abhinav, he has had it his way in the last 3- 4 years and has had a smooth sailing thus far in all grades of cricket. Abhinav must also count himself lucky that, at a time when he is looking to break through into the Ranji squad, he has two southpaws as selectors this year, WV Raman (he is also the coach) and R. Madhavan, both of whom are ideally suited to guide him through his next phase in his cricketing career.

It will do his confidence a great deal of good if the TN officials talk to him and inform him of their plans for him (of course subject to him scoring the necessary runs). That will help him not become too eager and anxious of his impending selection in the TN state team.

Having graduated in flying colours in age group cricket, Abhinav has it in him to scale through Ranji and Duleep in the next couple of years to put himself in contention for national honours. Unless something dramatically goes wrong,(and I don’t see that possibility as he has all the basics right, both technically and mentally), I see Abhinav being an integral part of the Indian team into the next decade.

Abhinav could end up as one, with the best defensive technique for India against the new ball after Sunil Gavaskar. A shrewd thinker, I also see Abhinav captaining Tamil Nadu for many years.
Where do I see him
2007-08- Debut in Ranji Trophy
2008-09- Entry into Duleep Trophy and Irani Trophy
2009-10- In the Indian team
2010-11- Cementing his place in the Indian team

23 comments:

dinesh said...

Wow ! That was a comprehensive descirption. I have heard about this kid. But thanks to your views, I think I am ready to start rooting for him. Good job, prabhu.

Sriram Srinivasan said...

Nice one Prabhu, quite comprehensive. And all the best to Abhinav.

bhagya said...

Good reporting prabhu.
I am proud to be Abhinav's "friend".

Congrats and all the Best to u Abhi!:)

PRabhu S said...

Dinesh,

Thanks man. You seem to be keeping good track of TN cricket...


Prabhu

PRabhu S said...

Sriram,

Thanks

Prabhu

PRabhu S said...

Bhagya,

Hi! Thanks for reading and the comment

Prabhu

prabu said...

Prabhu,

I've been following Abhinav for the last few months now and like you share the same sense of excitement I had for Sriram. I have always wondered why Sriram turned into a batsman from a bowler - I had watched him as a bowler in the late 80s/early 90s and the next time I heard of him after a few years was as TN batsman. Maybe you can shed some light on it. Sriram could have easily played for India as a batsman and maybe if he had stayed true to his original art, could have played for India for long.

Here's hoping Abhinav will make it to the Indian team.

-Prabu

PRabhu S said...

Dear Prabu

Thanks for the comment.

Regarding Sriram(and actually a few others in the TN team too), the belief is that it is lot easier to be a batsman than a bowler.

As a bowler you need to toil at the nets, for hours together every day.

While this is not to say that the batsmen do not have to toil, it seems that the thought process is that it is lot easier in India to be a batsmen than a spinner.

Plus ofcourse advice from different coaches-clubs, age cricket, ranji cricket- can cause potential damage to action of a spin bowler.

Guess, Sriram lost his arc and flight when out of his teens. Even in his early teens, he was interested in his batting and I remember TS Ramaswamy,the one who spotted him first, asking not to lose focus on his bowling.

Since he was a good batsman, the moment his success rate as a bowler declined, he started focusing on making runs...

Same was the case with WV Raman and LS

Thanks again for the comment
Prabhu

Jadeboy said...

This something that I feel strongly about TN Cricket - talent is in plenty but temperament is in serious shortage. No TN cricketer has ever been strongly established in the national side a la the Karnataka cricketers like Vishwanath, Kirmani, Pras, Chandra, Dravid, Kumble etc. And to think that TN has always given Karnataka a run for its money in the domestic tournaments. Srikkanth was at best mercurial and at worst inconsistent. Even Venkat had to fight for a place in team against the more gifted Pras. I feel this boils down to temperament that the TN cricketers lack. The name that immediately springs to mind is Arjan Kripal Singh - superb talent that lost its way. I hope Abhinav does not go that way and stays focussed. As for bowlers becoming batsmen, its nothing new WV Raman, LS etc. are examples (not successful ones though!).

PRabhu S said...

Thanks much for reading and your comments

Prabhu

Prabu said...

Prabhu,

Thanks for your insights. I remember the time when TSR spotted Sriram and he used to play in the senior team even at a very young age.

The funny thing about Sriram is that he never shot-up in height a whole lot. I've heard people talk about him losing his arc but never figured why. Maybe the passing of his grandfather made him lose focus on bowling. I remember his grandfather accompanying to all league games. I did hear the same complaint about TN spinners not ready to toil hard in the nets from Venkat as well when I brought up the issue of Sriram a couple of years back.

Jade, other than temperament, the language factor may also be at work I think. Maybe the lack of Hindi knowledge has worked negatively against TN cricketers when it came to team dynamics and that is not an issue for Hyderabad and Karnataka cricketers.

BTW, any thoughts on R. Ashwin? He must be someone special - judging from his first year heroics and the fact that he has been entrusted with TN captaincy (in the absence of Badri) at this young age.

If only Balaji can come back or TN can unearth 2 good fast bowlers then we can go all the way in domestic championships. Lack of good bowlers is affecting TN tremendously - batting is quite good and in a couple of years I think TN will be a batting powerhouse.

Thanks,
Prabu

Prabu said...

Prabhu,

One other question, you wouldn't happen to be the same Prabhu that bowled leg-spin in TSR's academy, would you? The same guy that went to MV Subba Row (I think).

Thanks,
Prabu

PRabhu S said...

Prabu,

Thanks for the comment.

Ashwin I think is good and will do well with both bat and ball, though after a good first match this year, his injury put an end to his as well as TN's hopes for this season.

Yes, I am the same Prabhu you are referring to.

Regards
Prabhu
94440 40748
prabhuopr@gmail.com

Prabu Parthasarathy said...

That's great to know Prabhu. Thanks for your response.

I am not sure you remember me, but we played together for a while, starting in 1989 and then when I came back to the academy in 1992. I also was a junior to your friend Vijay in Vellore. The last time we met I think was when we lost the semifinal (or qf) of a tournament played in Marina Cricket Ground and I remember dropping a very very difficult catch off your bowling.

It's good to communicate with you - it's amazing to think that I searched for Abhinav Mukund and ended up meeting someone I had not met for 15 years.

Good talking to you again and one other question, do you stll play?

Thanks,
Prabu

Prabu said...

And a Happy New Year BTW.

PRabhu S said...

Prabu,

Thanks for the wishes.

Wish you too a Happy New Year.

I am trying to recollect:)

I still play and umpire as well.
(playing for MCTM Old Boys)

Vijay is back in Madras after a decade in the US.

What are you doing? Whats your email id?

Prabhu

jerr said...

well this guy is my class mate ,frnd had a good time wen he came to school on rare occasions though ...I m very proud of him nd pray to god tat all s wll 4 him in the future...

PRabhu S said...

Jerr,

Hi! Thanks for reading.

A little unfortunate that he missed out on playing in the U19 World cup, but am sure that will test his charecter to come back strong in the matches to follow.

Prabhu

swami said...

thats great
i had seen abhinav in mylapore spencer's daily and want to say hi but before i could go he went and i want to know about him. i think this is a semi autobiography of the young cricketer. hope he becomes a landmark of tn cricket

S said...

Dear Swami,

Thanks for reading and the comments

Prabhu

Anvitha said...

That was a brilliant and vividly descriptive compilation on his career so far.
Keep up the great work.

Prabhu.S said...

Anvitha,

Thanks for reading and the comments

Regards
Prabhu

Paraa said...

Your analysis and prediction has been spot on.Congrats.Please do on my friend and budding cricketer Aushik Srinivas,the first cricketer from my city to play Ranji trophy.He is feeling low nowadays.