Abhinav Mukund was pleased with the way Tamil Nadu’s young seam attack stepped up after the retirement of L Balaji © PTI
Tamil Nadu captain Abhinav Mukund, who was ill, slept through most parts of Saturday, and then woke up to watch his team trample Karnataka in two days. Last December, it was Tamil Nadu who were at the wrong end of a two-day finish and crashed out of the Ranji Trophy. They have turned the tables dramatically this season by becoming the first team to secure a spot in the semi-final.
Former Tamil Nadu captain S Badrinath had said last year that wilting under pressure held the side back. The mental make-up of the team seems to have changed for the better in 2016-17 under the guidance of Abhinav and Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the first player from outside the state to be appointed Tamil Nadu coach.
They were without R Ashwin and M Vijay, who were both injured, for the quarter-final against a full-strength Karnataka team that had seven players with international experience. Tamil Nadu, though, stepped up under pressure and beat Karnataka for the first time since the 2003-04 season. This was also Tamil Nadu’s first win over Karnataka in a knockout clash in the Ranji Trophy in three attempts.
“We have never really focussed on who the opponent is,” Abhinav said. “That is the good thing about this team. It is lack of knowledge or people don’t bother about their opponents and continue doing their own things.”
Abhinav took pride in mentoring and shaping a young seam bowling attack, which has adapted impressively to neutral venues. K Vignesh, T Natarajan and Aswin Crist have picked up 94 wickets between them. They were so relentless in Visakhapatnam that Tamil Nadu did not need the services of left-arm spinner Aushik Srinivas in both innings.
“It is always heartening when people you pick and mentor are doing great things,” Abhinav said. “I have backed certain number of players this season, and I think they are doing really good things. Someone just said he [K Vignesh] has taken 39  wickets. I don’t know the last time two Tamil Nadu fast bowlers had more than 30 wickets [in a season]. It is really amazing and heartening for me. I have always hoped something like this would happen after [L] Balaji. Touchwood! Hope this continues.”
Abhinav also cautioned against getting excited by recent success, as did coach Kanitkar.
“No smile on my face yet. There are two more matches to go,” Kanitkar said. “Ideally, I would have liked us to chase 87 without losing a wicket. We need to improve in every area.”
“Hrishi is one of the best things to have happened to Tamil Nadu,” Ramji Srinivasan, the former India and current Tamil Nadu fitness trainer, said. “His inputs and very sharp and valuable, and he wants excellence and we strive for it.”
“Huge proportion is from what I learned from Rajasthan,” he said. “There, I was myself learning things, as I was also new to the role and still playing. It’s all about what you say to each player. Those boys taught me how different people need to be told differently.
“[In the Tamil Nadu team] Somebody like Dinesh Karthik has a certain way of batting and Abhinav has a certain way of batting. Both are very experienced; Dinesh has slightly more international experience.
“Telling them, you have to specific. You don’t need to tell much to Dinesh. You just need to tell him what little bit is needed. Abhi usually discusses more and tries to learn new things. Dinesh knows what works for him, and I am with that. We let him be in his space. The same way, a new player might need extra throw-downs. So I do things accordingly.”
The management also rotated players and even dropped B Aparajith, who started the season as the vice-captain, midway through the campaign, after a string of low scores. Kanitkar said that proper communication promoted a healthy environment in the dressing room.
“The rotation was only based on the form of players, and the need of the team,” he said. “It wasn’t a set policy. We did just what the team needed.
“As a coach, it is very important for me to tell why a player is playing and why he is dropped so that there is no puzzle in his mind and has to work out why he has been dropped… I tell them the reason and make sure they get their chance when they are doing well again. I keep my eye on them. They just don’t disappear from my sight.”
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo