Abhinav bullish of a good Ranji season for Tamil Nadu

"I think we've got a strong team this year. We've got a couple of internationals back and also carrying on from last season, a lot of players have got India A call ups, India Red call ups. The team is looking in good shape now," Abhinav emphasised.

Abhinav Mukund at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai on Thursday.   -  V. Ganesan

With three international players in its ranks — Ravichandran Ashwin, Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund — Tamil Nadu opens its Ranji Trophy campaign against underdogs Andhra Pradesh at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium on Friday.

Placed in Grop C along with Andhra Pradesh, Baroda, Madhya Pradesh, Mumbai, Odisha, and Tripura, Tamil Nadu will hope to end its three-decade title drought, especially after faltering at the final hurdle six times.

Tamil Nadu skipper Abhinav Mukund sounded a confident man on the eve of the season opener. "I think we've got a strong team this year. We've got a couple of internationals back and also carrying on from last season, a lot of players have got India A call ups, India Red call ups. The team is looking in good shape now," he emphasised.

READ: Kanitkar: 'Abhinav is first choice captain'

Quizzed whether it was difficult to manage international players, Abhinav said it was the converse of common perception. "I beg to differ. These are the guys who come to me and say what is my role in this team, how do I play and what brand of cricket do we play here. The good thing for me is that I've played a lot of cricket with them (internationals) and the youngsters as well. They have created a friendly atmosphere in the dressing room at the moment. A couple of them played TNPL and some them have played league cricket too, so it's not like they're new faces around. Its just the tags that have probably come because of their reputation," Abhinav added.

However, Abhinav said this current Tamil Nadu squad isn't the strongest in recent times. "It's just a matter of how you look at things. There have been teams when Badri (S Badrinath) and Bala (L Balaji) were all playing. We've had quite a strong set-up of internationals playing for Tamil Nadu. It's just that because in the last couple of years these guys haven't been available to play, you feel that these guys are back and all these things about them coming back are written in the papers. To me it's all the same," he noted.

The captain was happy with the way the pre-season panned out for the team. Abhinav said the focus and the emphasis was on getting the basics right, especially after a heartbreaking loss in the semifinal last year. "The training camp was all about being honest with ourselves about our preparation, with regards to fielding, keeping an eye on the over rate, keeping up the intensity in the field. When you do the small things right, eventually you will get the results that you want. We don't play for results, we don't play for wins, we play for a brand of cricket that we want to make sure that we trick all our boxes. When you take the pressure of a result out of your system, its really easy for us to focus on what we need to do and how to take our cricket further," he said.

 'Ranji is the stepping stone for an India call-up'

One might say that the path taken by budding cricketers to stake claim for a berth in the national team might have changed from the Ranji Trophy to the likes of the Indian Premier League but for Abhinav, the domestic tournament is of high esteem and a stepping stone for success. Abhinav, with consistent performances in the domestic scene, earned a national call-up more than once and the southpaw left no stone unturned to acknowledge the fact.

The skipper said the Ranji Trophy is very significant to him. "To me, it (Ranji) is very significant. I've worked very hard in the Ranji Trophy. This is the only opportunity I've got the last few years and the selectors have rewarded my performance in the Ranji Trophy. If you ask me, it is still a significant route to play for the country," he said.  

Abhinav said his biggest motivation is to don the national team colours. "What's the bigger motivation than to play for the country? I could've quit the game a long time back but I stuck around because I wanted to play for the country and I have done that reasonably well. That is the most I can do and that is the most that is in my hands. I should go in and continue doing the same things, that's about it," the TN skipper explained.

The opener minced no words in admitting that every domestic season is important and said he doesn't think about selection to the national team always. "For me, every game is an important game because the eye is constantly on the player. You never know which innings, which selector is watching or which former player is watching. You never know what innings give you the impetus to play for the country. It's not like I just give my wicket away and come. I take every game and every season seriously. I leave the selection to the selectors. I don't want to think about if they pick three openers and with the six substitute rule by ICC, it is even better," Abhinav concluded.