Building his case to move to the next level, one century at a time

News Analysis

While Abhimanyu’s technique and playing style is impressive enough, his game awareness marks him out as someone with a bright future

There are many things batsmen do when they are approaching a century. Knuckle down to play extra carefully, be minutely aware of the fielding side’s plans… Abhimanyu Easwaran played ludo.
It was not by choice. He was on 83 when a short, sharp burst of rain forced the players off the field at the end of the 42nd over of India Red’s innings in the Duleep Trophy final in Bengaluru. Rather than being too keyed up over the approaching landmark, he played ludo in the dressing room during the 64-minute break in the final session of day two.

The skies soon cleared, the sun came out, and the excellent drainage at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium meant Abhimanyu could stride back out to complete the hundred, the 13th of his first-class career. On reaching it, he pulled out a rakhi that his sister Pallavi had given him, dedicating the feat to her.

For an innings that was all about control, playing straight and staying compact – Abhimanyu’s normal batting method in other words – the shot to get to hundred was a bottom edge that bounced between wicketkeeper Akshay Wadkar’s legs to fetch two runs. Two overs later, the light deteriorated rapidly once again, as if the sun had come out just long enough to help him get to the landmark, and early stumps was called.

India Red had moved to a strong 175 for 2, just 56 runs behind India Green, and Abhimanyu had taken another big step towards a call-up to a higher grade.

He would agree that it was “a good time” to be an opener in India, what with a long home season looming and the possibility of spots opening up at the top of the order very much alive.

While Abhimanyu’s technique and playing style is impressive enough, his game awareness marks him out as someone with a bright future. He will turn 24 during this game. He made his debut in the 2013-14 season, but it’s in the last year that Abhimanyu has taken leaps forward.

It stemmed from a conversation with Rahul Dravid, his India A coach, and Apoorva Desai, his personal coach. “Last year, I started my season with a couple of 70s and 80s, and in New Zealand also [with India A] I got a couple of fifties. I wasn’t getting those big scores so I talked to Rahul sir about it. He and my coach Apoorva Desai decided that I should try and focus on what I need to do right now in the game. If I’m batting on 20, my score doesn’t matter, what matters is what I need to do next for the team. I think I was trying too much after 60 maybe. It happens that after some time you are set and you feel you want to dominate, but you have to play the situation.”

That talk yielded a blockbuster season for Bengal in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy. He ended with 861 runs, the fourth highest from the Elite Group teams. While his average of 95.66 was astounding, the three centuries he scored, each better than the previous one, were the cornerstones of his season.

There was 186 against Hyderabad, out of a first-innings total of 336 where Bengal ended with three points thanks to a lead of just 24 runs. He had been ninth out, and the next highest total for Bengal was a couple of 32s.
Then came 183 not out against Delhi in the fourth innings, where he led Bengal’s charge on the way to achieving a target of 323 in a seven-wicket win.
And finally, his first double-century, a 201 not out against Punjab that allowed Bengal to claw back into the match after having conceded a whopping first-innings lead of 260 runs.
He would soon better that score, hitting 233 against Sri Lanka A in May 2019 in an innings win.

The nature of these innings – all when faced with different kinds of challenges, and none of them coming “easy” – has probably already put him on the radar of the national selectors. How he constructed his as yet unbeaten 102 in the Duleep final will add to that. Abhimanyu is not a big six-hitter, though as a List A strike rate of 83.09 and a T20 strike rate of 132.15 show, he’s not a dawdler. Against Green, he smacked two clean hits over the boundary against their two frontline spinners – Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and Mayank Markande.

It was not a rush of blood, but a calculated assault. “I think the wicket was playing really well and I knew it was not turning too much,” he said. “I knew that if I could put pressure on the bowlers initially when they come into their spells, I would have a better chance to dominate them throughout. And it would also ensure that the fast bowlers came back again – and they were tired (having bowled a majority of the overs), so I would get an opportunity to get runs. It was part of a plan, and it worked really well today.”

The tightening of his game, mentally more than technically, adds to his strengths: he is in control against pace and spin, can play rasping shots square of the wicket on the back foot, can come twinkling down the crease when warranted, and is decisive in putting his front foot out. Perhaps the one aspect he’s not experienced in yet is facing high-quality extreme pace consistently, which he will be exposed to should a national call-up come.

But he is prepared for that. “I am preparing for that with my coach (Desai). We try and work on playing against quick bowling. We reduce the pitch length and make bowlers bowl. And playing A series has helped me a lot because we play against bowlers who have played international cricket, and they bowl pretty fast. If you keep playing them, you get habituated to that pace. I think it’s more of a habit, playing 140-150 kph bowlers, rather than anything else.”

If he continues the way he’s going, that preparation might come in handy sooner rather than later.

Saurabh Somani is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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