Year 2011. Tamil Nadu opener Abhinav Mukund made his Test debut along with the present skipper Virat Kohli. A batsman in form domestically, Mukund failed to keep the same pace with Kohli internationally and the career graph of both the individuals went in diversified directions.
In 2011, the Indian think-tank was looking for quality openers who can succeed in overseas conditions.
The then openers Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag were either injured or even considered ineffective on foreign soil and a serious hunt was on to find replacements.
That’s how Mukund got the nod and was picked for the tour of West Indies and England. Mukund struck a half century against West Indies but what followed was a dismal numerical series with a score of 49 only standing out.
Though he was second best to Rahul Dravid on the England tour, he was forgotten immediately.
All the Indian batsmen struggled during that tour but the easy victim was Mukund. Even former England cricketer Nasser Hussain had sought a longer stint for the talented Tamil Nadu southpaw.
That was not to be until 2017 when he was recalled for the only Test against Bangladesh. He was in the team but not in the playing eleven.
Back after six years
Once again, after six years Mukund is back in the frame of things. He’s got the support of skipper and former playing partner Kohli. But will that alone help?
In 2011 the story was different. The door was open for openers and it was a time when Ajinkya Rahane too was considered for the slot. Six years on and one needs to have sheer luck to get the opportunity as there are many stake holders.
Kohli’s team always has preferred to have Murali Vijay and L. Rahul as the openers and the duo has vindicated the trust as well. The injury worries and fitness troubles are the only reasons the two had been in and out of the team.
Fairly successful overseas, Vijay has been the first choice opener for India and lately, Rahul too has done enough to keep his spot intact.
With the two on top and with Pujara at No.3 and Kohli to follow the Indian batting line-up has looked formidable. And the inclusion of Hardik Pandya, who Kohli said is in the mould of Ben Stokes, has brought back the much-needed balance in the team.
A sweet headache
The Galle victory might have helped Kohli earn a revenge of sorts. Simultaneously he has earned a sweet headache as well. A selection headache is sweet when one has more options at hand and Kohli will be chewing up his nails to decide who will open at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo, where the second Test begins on Thursday.
Any captain will go with the same winning combination but considering Kohli’s scheme of things he may bring back Rahul, who has joined the team after recovering completely from flu. Often Kohli has been heard praising Rahul and mentioning him as his preferred choice for the openers’ slot and that is certain to force a change at the top.
Dhawan, a back door entry after Vijay declared himself unfit, grasped his opportunity with a swashbuckling knock of 190 and the man of the match award in the first Test.
Mukund on the other hand, after failing in the first innings, was lucky to get an opportunity in the second innings to score his second half-century in Tests.
However, the fear is that Mukund will once again be the one to make way. Remember he was the third-choice opener when the team was selected and do you think protocols work in Indian cricket?
Going by the past incidents, Mukund is an easy name to be forgotten until he gets another chance. This happened after the England tour in 2011. When everyone thought he will have an extended run with Team India. But the reality was quite different as he was completely ignored and forced back into the domestic circuit.
Here again, he may be relieved to play in the Tamil Nadu Premier League which is underway. If that happens, Mukund must be brave enough to embrace the situation as this is how the cricket system works in the country.
At least this time in Galle, Mukund despite batting well in the second innings, did win accolades with his sharp fielding. Often criticised for his sloppy show on the field, the southpaw this time proved his excellence and showed that he is 100 times better than what critics have considered him to be.
Many raised their eyebrows when he inflicted a brilliant run out to get rid of Upul Tharanga and an exhilarating catch at silly point to oust Niroshan Dickwella.
This indeed was a point he wanted to make in response to the trolls he attracted after the first innings flop. Those were comments that were sheer humiliating for a man who was making his comeback.
A strong reply came from his bat in the second innings when he stroked a fantastic 81. However, a century would have served his cause stronger. Though calls for an extended run for Mukund have gathered momentum, it’s for Kohli and head coach Ravi Shastri to make a decision.
The 27-year Tamil Nadu batsman deserves more opportunities rather than he be put on the knife’s edge. Mukund was baptised overseas and he still gets the chance to play only overseas matches. This is also a prime reason why this man should be given more exposure and opportunities to prove his mettle.
By ignoring him, a career will be cut short abruptly.
So Mr. Kohli, Rahul can wait. Let Mukund play.
Meanwhile, considered or not, a mature Mukund must be satisfied to have represented the country. At least he is not on the list of highly rated players who kept knocking the doors in vain.