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Every comeback has made me hungrier: Rahul

The opener believed his injury lay offs and times off the field have motivated him to comeback with more hunger to score runs

It was an optional practice session on the eve of the Test match. Only two members turned up for it; KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara - with the rest happy with their preparations decided to take some time off. Pujara was coming into the Colombo Test with a hundred in his bag already. Rahul though was making a comeback of sorts after having had to miss out on the first Test due to an illness. He looked great in the nets and there was positivity oozing out of him – an eagerness to play the next day and score big.

Rahul didn’t look like he was out of touch at all. His feet movement were crisp, his shot selections immaculate and he was in what you call – the zone to get a big one. Unfortunately, Rahul was run-out for 57 and the dejection was there to be seen as he walked back to the pavilion. He didn’t score a ton no doubt, but this innings was significant for a reason.

“It’s been a long time since I have been away from the game and that too at such a young age,” he said. “It’s a big challenge to comeback and very unfortunate that I had to sit out for so long. But you have to keep yourself positive, focussed and motivated to comeback as soon as you can. That was the biggest challenge for me but the minute I walked out into the middle, I was very happy more than anything else. If I did well or didn’t do well, didn’t matter to me because I was very happy. I was happy I could start off with a fifty and make some contribution to the team.”

Battling injuries can be tough, continued Rahul. “I have kind of gotten used to this. More than playing for a long time, I have been in and out of the team because of injuries. It’s never easy to come back. It takes you a couple of games to get back into your groove as an opening batsman, understand where your off-stump is, to understand what pace you have to play at, how many shots are too many, how slow is too slow. There are a lot of things, a lot of doubts in your mind if you keep going out and coming back in but I have enjoyed the challenge.

“No matter how well I have taken care of my body, I have been injured a few times which is very unfortunate and which is very disappointing but each time I have come back, I have come back stronger, I have come back hungrier. I wanted to contribute to the team, wanted to make a difference to the team whenever I was out there in the middle. It’s kind of taught me to value my position, value my opportunities each time I go out on to bat in the middle. I enjoy it and play it like my last game.”

But what has been more confidence boosting is the fact that the team management has backed his abilities so much. Captain Virat Kohli has always been in awe of his temperament and so has the rest of the management who have backed him through thick and thin.

“The security from the team management makes a massive difference. It gives me so much confidence, not just now but even after the surgery, the support staff, the coaches, the boys were constantly messaging me and saying, ‘Whenever you are ready, get ready sooner, the team misses you’ and small things like that make a lot of difference when you are injured and you are down. That kept me motivated, that woke me up each morning to go to physiotherapy and do my boring rehab. It gives you confidence that team is backing you, team trusts you, waiting for you to come back into the team and that makes a big difference and I come back with lot more confidence. I can walk into the team with ease in my head, there is no pressure of me losing my position which is great. The captain and coaches have always given me that support which has played a big role in my small career so far.”

Missing out on Test series and opportunities to play for the country made him hungrier, Rahul asserted. “When you are sitting out and when you are seeing your teammates do well, you do feel very happy but you also feel disappointed that it’s not you in that position doing the job for the country, for the team. Every time I have come back, I have been more hungry. Whatever time I have spent away from the game, I have watched the guys batting. Not just our guys but I watch a lot of cricket, I see the guys and see what they are doing right and I try to bring that into my game.”

There is one habit that Rahul doesn’t want to give away and that is to get hundreds and big ones. But the numbers game never really fascinated him, he emphasised. “I've never chased numbers. My job as an opening batsman is to give the team a good start, lay a solid foundation and I think I've done that so far. Each time I go back to bat, I will want to get more and more runs. I'm learning from my mistakes. That is how the life of a batsman is. You might play 60 balls perfectly and then one ball you get out. We were discussing that in the dressing room just today. All the guys, whoever got out, were playing so well and never looked like getting out until that one ball has your name on it and you have to get out. Might as well enjoy the time you're in the middle and get as many runs as you can.”

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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Abhinav Mukund & his tryst with destiny

On what has been a roller coaster ride, the Indian opener spoke about the ups and downs in his career and the disappointment of missing out on a hundred

It was the last over of the day. Virat Kohli faced the first two balls and gave the strike to Abhinav Mukund batting on 81. Abhinav, who had focused through his innings and looked confident during his entire knock looked to play the next ball with equal amount of concentration. Taking his stance, ready to face, he took a short stride towards the Gunathilaka delivery to be rapped on the pads. A huge appeal and umpire Bruce Oxenford had no second thoughts and raised his finger.

Abhinav did call for a review, but midway through the review when the replays were being played on the big screen, he realized, he was out and had to make the long walk back to the pavilion to fall short of the magical three figure mark by 19 runs. Dejection, anger and sadness – Abhinav displayed all of it at one go, a sense of realization that he couldn’t have asked for a better time and stage to notch up his first ton in whites. “I have had a decent day, but I am disappointed to get out on 81,” he said later. “I thought if two settled batsmen were not out today, that would have given us the impetus to get a few more in the first hour and then get them back in. Unfortunately, I got out.”

Abhinav has had his fair share of disappointments in the past. Picture this – he gets drafted into the Test side in 2011, makes his debut against West Indies in Jamaica, doesn’t have big scores to his name barring a fifty in three Test matches. Then moves to Lord’s and gets a 49, plays the Test at Nottingham and gets single digit scores in both innings and then doesn’t feature in the team for the next six years. For a player to make his debut in 2011 and then comeback and wear whites after a six-year layoff was in itself a big deal according to the opener.

“After that 49 at Lord’s, I had a lot of time to think about my career. I had six years to think about it and don’t want to talk about it. I wasn’t part of any team. There was a time when I was dropped from my own first-class team. To have this opportunity to be a part of the Indian team is such a huge bonus. I take every game as an opportunity, that’s all.

“I have gone through my ups and downs, and that is a long time back. I don’t even want to get there. I am happy I am back in the squad. I am disappointed I didn’t get to three figures today, but I am happy to be out in the middle for India.”

Abhinav is well aware of the permutations and combinations within the team. The opener’s slot is packed with possibilities. Shikhar Dhawan has just announced himself with a brilliant 190 in the first innings, while KL Rahul is slowly making his way to full recovery. M Vijay is there in the mix too and once these two are back, Abhinav may well have to sit out of the eleven. For him though, these things did not bother. “I don’t want to think ahead to the next Test. Being the first-choice opener or second-choice opener doesn’t make a difference. When you get a chance in the middle, I want to capitalise on it. I have the opportunity to do something in this Test and want to give it all.”

That he did. Though he didn’t quite get his bat do the talking in the first innings, there were two dismissals that stood out which clearly belonged to Abhinav. Number one; a brilliant throw to the keeper from silly point to send a well set Upul Tharanga packing and the next one was a one-handed blinder at silly point to make Niroshan Dickwella take the walk back to the pavilion. Two outstanding fielding efforts that sure required special mention which also proved as a catalyst for his super second innings show.

“I think the catch and the run-out did give me a lot of confidence. I have worked really hard in the off-season. I wanted to improve on my close-in fielding and also my batting. I have put in the hard yards. In the Indian team, it is very important that you be a specialist fielder somewhere. I have worked a lot with our fielding coach R Sridhar. He has been a great asset for me. He has made it mandatory that we take a certain number of catches every day. The fitness aspect of it too is important. It is important that you are fit to stand under the helmet for 70-80 overs. So, a lot of credit to our strength and conditioning coach Mr. Shanker Basu.”

Anand Subramaniam
Anand Subramaniam

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