So obsessed was he in making an international comeback that, by his own admission, he had stopped enjoying the game that he loved.

The return of the pugnacious southpaw Will Abhinav Mukunds comeback be longerImage: PTI
Blog Sports Wednesday, March 08, 2017 - 14:46

Six seasons can be a long time in professional sport, especially if it’s a wait, as was the case with Tamil Nadu batsman Abhinav Mukund until the Bengaluru Test.

State-mate Murali Vijay’s injury paved a return to the XI for left-handed Mukund, whose previous Test appearance was against England in Nottingham back in July-August 2011.

It is interesting how the pair’s careers have intertwined and yet taken very different paths after the duo made headlines with a 462-run stand for the opening wicket in a Ranji Trophy match against Maharashtra in Nashik in November 2008.

Mukund scored a triple hundred and Vijay 243 in that game, and Vijay would make his Test debut the same week against Australia in Nagpur as a replacement for Gautam Gambhir, out with a one-match suspension.

The just-concluded second Test between India and Australia would have been Vijay’s 50th, but was only the sixth for Mukund, who missed 56 Tests played by India since Nottingham.

The left-hander was rewarded with a recall to the Indian squad as third opener for the one-off Test against Bangladesh last month on the back of a solid domestic season and the consistency displayed in first-class cricket over the past few years.

The 27-year-old, who tallied 1,124 runs at an average of 62 in the 2016-17 domestic first-class season, warmed the bench in the Bangladesh Test and in the opening Test defeat against Australia in Pune, but failed to make it count on a tricky wicket in Bengaluru, returning scores of 0 and 16. India won the low-scoring Test by 75 runs to level the four-match series 1-1. The third Test will start in Ranchi on March 16.

However, considering that India’s batting has struggled in the series, there is hope that the pugnacious southpaw will get another chance.

Mukund had opened with Vijay on his international debut that saw the two get a full run of three Tests in the West Indies in June-July 2011, the opportunity coming after both Virender Sehwag and Gambhir were sidelined with injuries.

Vijay lost his place after the Caribbean tour while Mukund played two Tests in England before Sehwag and Gambhir reunited again for the third Test. By the time those two faded, Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan – whom Mukund replaced now – had established themselves and soon KL Rahul upstaged Mukund in the pecking order.

Vijay made his Test return during 2013 home series against Australia – who appear central to this tale – where he recorded two 150-plus scores and subsequently cemented his place at the top of the order.

“My batting was a bit loose then, if you know what I mean,” he later said of the poor West Indies tour. Vijay scored two centuries in the series win over England late last year and another against Bangladesh. The 32-year-old averages just under 40 with nine hundreds in Test cricket.

Mukund, meanwhile, went through a difficult period although he’d averaged below 40 only twice in domestic cricket in that time.

So obsessed was he in making an international comeback that, by his own admission, he had stopped enjoying the game that he loved. Around the time that his form dipped in 2012-13, Mukund decided it would be good to switch off completely from cricket, and he did so for a few months by taking up surfing classes in Mahabalipuram and learning the basics of a foreign language. It worked for him, and he continues to be passionate about surfing.

Another interesting incident about him concerns a national selector who failed to recognise Mukund despite him already having played for India.

This wasn’t long ago. It appears that Mukund walked up to the selector during a first-class game to exchange pleasantries, and he realised from the obligatory ‘hello’ and the empty stare that the selector, who is no longer part of the panel, did not recognise him.

So, Mukund proceeded to introduce himself, and the name did seem to ring a bell and the selector reportedly said, “Oh yes, I have your name on my laptop somewhere.”

Mukund is clearly back in the mix of openers in Tests, and given that India are scheduled to tour South Africa, England and Australia in 2018-19, one expects his comeback to be longer.

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