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.”
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