Those that have followed Abhinav Mukund’s young, very promising first-class cricket career know that you either get him early or not at all. In 27 innings, Abhinav has breached 50 nine times. On seven of those occasions he has gone on to a century, once refusing to relent till he had materialised a triple-hundred. (And he only relented because his captain declared the innings closed).
Abhinav’s most recent first-class century came earlier this month for Rest of India against Mumbai in the Irani Cup. Then, after being asked to replace an indisposed Sachin Tendulkar in the Challenger Trophy, he scored 114 in the only game he played for India Blue. For any batsman these are mighty impressive accomplishments; consider he is only 19, and it’s difficult not to be a little awestruck.
Abhinav was born into cricket. His father, T. S. Mukund, was a stalwart performer in the local first-division league, and on occasion part of the State squad. His mother, Lakshmi, played a high level of cricket as well. Not only did Abhinav take to the bat very early — picking it up left-handed so he could emulate Brian Lara, his idol — he also learnt important lessons at home, for, unsurprisingly, much of the talk involved cricket.
Indeed, Abhinav traces his incredible conversion rate, of fifties to hundreds, to his father’s words. “My dad has always said that once you’re settled, the bowler will seldom get you out; it’s you who’ll give it away,” he says. “I bat thinking I have only one chance. So I try to make the best use of it because I know I’ll regret it later.”
It’s this ability to make the most of his opportunity, never shrinking from the pressure, that sets Abhinav apart. “I’ve always felt I have a few strengths: my technique, the grit to play for a long period of time,” he says, assessing his game. “And I play to them. Lots of people seem to lack self-belief, but I’ve always believed in myself.”
This isn’t to say he is invulnerable: he confesses he couldn’t feel his legs when he took strike on Ranji debut. He didn’t let that get in the way of a hundred, however. Abhinav has had his setbacks. He didn’t play a game in the under-19 World Cup. He was sent back from South Africa when Chennai Super Kings decided to trim its travelling squad.
But he hasn’t wallowed in self-pity. “You feel frustrated at that moment, you feel horrible,” he says. “But you realise it helps you in the long run. It’s good; it makes you tougher and makes you work harder.” Such perspective isn’t common, but then Abhinav’s is an uncommon mind. “I like observing people, noticing what they do and learning from it,” he says, when asked what he has learnt from the greats he has shared a dressing room with. “There were a few things Rahul Dravid did that taught me a lot. He keeps everything in order; his gloves are in order; his grip is perfect; he always turns up on time. After a game, he takes a shower and combs his hair. Just looking at him, I thought, ‘The man’s a complete professional — I should try and be more like him.’”
What’s next for Abhinav Mukund? “My goals are short-term, every month, every tournament,” he says. “I don’t like to think too much about the long term (playing for India). Obviously it bothers you, but I try not to think too much about it. I want to continue my form this season. A lot of people have now seen me on TV, and they will have begun to sort me out. I want to be even better prepared. I also want to gain experience playing the moving ball. A county stint in England is something I’m looking at in the next couple of years.”