At a time when the poor form of KL Rahul and Murali Vijay have forced the Indian selectors to search for options for the openers’ slots in Tests, Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran has put his hand up with some solid performances in recent times.
A majestic 183 not out during Bengal’s record run-chase of 322 against Delhi has helped him grab the spotlight. This has come on the back of a solid 186 against Hyderabad which has seen his Ranji Trophy average this season soar to 81.62 from nine innings. He was part of the India A team which recently toured New Zealand and looked in good touch, scoring a half-century and a 47 in two games against a quality bowling attack consisting of internationals like Doug Bracewell and Lockie Ferguson on pacy tracks.
“Along with learning to adjust to alien conditions, the biggest takeaway from the tour was closely interacting with the coach - Rahul Dravid - who has been my childhood idol. He continuously stressed the importance of just focussing on one ball at a time without thinking too far ahead. This was my simple recipe for success when chasing a huge total against Delhi. I was not even looking at the scoreboard and was just playing one ball at a time," says Easwaran in an exclusive chat with Firstpost.
“Chasing 322 might looking daunting but I knew if one of the batsmen could play a big knock, we could cross the line. At lunch on the final day, we had lost 3 wickets and still needed 179 for a win. I was on 74 and Sourav Ganguly had a word with me. He said if I remained not out till the end, we would win the match. That motivated me."
Easwaran’s match-winning knock, which helped Bengal keep their hopes alive for a knockout spot, has grabbed the headlines. Local media has been lavish in their praises on how the young cricketer has lived up to his name, Abhimanyu, the mythical brave warrior from Mahabharata. But Easwaran is not celebrating yet and still believes he has to cover a lot of ground to force himself on the international scene.
“I do not believe in rushing myself and taking one step at a time. The road map is clearly laid out in front of me. I have scored runs in the domestic formats which helped me to get picked in the India A team. If I continue to do the good work, I will break into the Indian team. But I do not want to put too much pressure on myself with thoughts of selection for the national team," adds Easwaran, the highest run-getter for Bengal this season.
Mayank Aggarwal and Prithvi Shaw may have stolen the march over him in the battle for the opener’s slots, but he is not losing any sleep over it. “I had a few great starts and could not convert. After making these hundreds, I am determined not to squander the advantage and want to be more patient," says the 23-year-old who is also pursuing a career in chartered accountancy, besides racking up impressive numbers on the scoresheet.
Easwaran’s father, who runs a cricket academy in Dehradun, has been a major inspiration behind his cricket journey. “As my son’s greatest critic, I feel Abhimanyu is running two years behind the target that we had set for him. He was not consistent and there were some unlucky dismissals. For example, he was run out on 87 against New Zealand A in a one-dayer," says the senior Easwaran.
“He also scored two hundreds in a Ranji Trophy game against Uttar Pradesh in 2016 but it was not televised. So he never got the attention. Jungle mein mor nacha kisne dekha… Luckily, the hundred against Delhi was broadcast live and a lot of people have watched this special innings."
“I was a cricket fanatic who could not pursue the sport due to financial reasons. So when I established myself as a chartered accountant, I started a cricket academy. The academy came up a few years before Abhimanyu was born. I did not have to prod Abhimanyu to take up the sport. As a young kid, he was obsessed with cricket. I took to him to various cities around India and then realised that Bengal had the best cricket set up for the juniors. Abhimanyu was just 11 when we came across a cricket coach - Nirmalya Sengupta - who decided to take care of the youngster," recollects Abhimanyu’s father. So Easwaran left home and moved to Bangaon, a small town close to Bangladesh border where Sengupta was based.
“It was not easy being an 11-year-old and staying away from the family in a remote town. But since it allowed me to play cricket, there were no complaints. Every day, I used to travel for two hours to play various tournaments in Kolkata," recalls Easwaran.
“My coach was also nurturing another youngster, Abhishek Raman, who stayed with us in Bangaon. He was also not from Bengal having moved to Delhi. The two of us struck a great bond and became friends for life."
A decade later, the two would end up opening the batting for Bengal in the Ranji Trophy. Interestingly, Raman and Eashwaran shared a 121-run opening stand in the match against Delhi, laying a solid platform.
“We have known each other for over 10 years having started out together under the same coach. Growing up together, we have endured similar pains of homesickness and revelled in each other’s success. Though he is a couple of years younger to me, he is more mature. He is very level-headed. Success and failures do not move him," says Raman.
Bengal’s next outing is against Punjab and Easwaran has already exchanged notes with his father on how to tackle the incoming deliveries from Sandeep Sharma and Siddarth Kaul. A good showing against Punjab will pave the way for Bengal to make it to the knock out stages of the Ranji Trophy. And this will give more opportunities for Eashwaran to attract the attention of the selectors.