Ranji Trophy 2019-20 - Abhimanyu Easwaran: Playing for India a dream

Abhimanyu Easwaran found time from his schedule to speak about his journey so far, his love and aspirations for Bengal and his dream of representing India.

“It has been a wonderful journey so far,” says Abhimanyu Easwaran.   -  Y. B. Sarangi

For Dehradun boy Abhimanyu Easwaran, Bengal has been second home for the last 13 years. From nurturing his cricketing career in Bengal to becoming the captain of the state team, it was a natural progression for the fine opener who has been knocking on the doors of the national team.

Easwaran found time from his busy cricket schedule to speak to Sportstar about his journey so far, his love and aspirations for the Bengal team and his dream of representing India.

How did you get into cricket?

I had interest in cricket by watching it on TV. My father used to play the game on Sundays. He is a chartered accountant and CAs used to play against Income Tax people (in Dehradun). I used to go, watch their matches, help them with water and fielding etc. Growing up, I used to get a chance to bat once in a while and that’s how I got into cricket.

How did you get into formal coaching?

Seeing my interest in cricket, my father sent me to his friend Junaid Anjum, who started coaching a few of us and I started playing under him and in different tournaments. It was nothing like organised coaching, but it was like having a turf wicket and a cement wicket and we used to practice. We had a decent academy with good facilities.

How was cricket in Dehradun in those days?

There has been cricket in Dehradun. There are a lot of players who are coming up and proving their worth in BCCI tournaments. There was a lot of cricket but we did not have the BCCI affiliation and players who could afford to go out, would go out. There is a lot of talent in Dehradun and I hope they do well.

How difficult was it?

There were district level tournaments. When my father saw my interest he tried to build an academy for me and a few of my friends. We practised there and had a lot of school and clubs matches. It was good for us growing up, playing tournaments on turf wickets, matting wickets and whatever was available. That was important at that stage. Facilities were not there, but we tried to play with whatever we got.

When did you make the big decision of shifting to Kolkata?

I was 11, and was playing in Delhi . My father spoke to other coaches about how I could progress and may be play for some state (as Uttarakhand was not affiliated to the BCCI then). Somebody suggested that I could try Kolkata. I don’t know the reason. Probably, one of the reasons was that Kolkata has this tradition of cricket and selections were pretty fair here unlike a few other States. This decision was made by my dad, I had no clue. Once I came to Kolkata I played in a lot of tournaments, I stayed at a place called Bongaon. I and Abhishek Raman (a Bengal player from Delhi) stayed together and our coach was N. Sengupta. We stayed with him and played different local and association tournaments. Eventually we were in the under-16 trials. Then I started playing for Bengal. Since then it has been a wonderful journey so far.

Abhimanyu Easwaran celebrates after completing his double century in the Ranji Trophy match against Punjab, in Kolkata, in January this year.   -  AP

 

How difficult was it adapting to a new place and culture?

It was not difficult for me because I was getting to play cricket all day. I did not feel too much away from home. There was hardly any time — you wake up and go to practice; have lunch and go to practice. By the evening you are too tired to think about anything else, you talk to your parents on phone and have dinner and go to sleep.

My love for batting kept me here and I was really enjoying myself, get into practice every day, get a lot of matches in different situations, in different places, facing different bowlers, having new challenges every day. So I was really enjoying that phase and I still do. I was not thinking like I have to go back home.

How did you pursue your studies?

When there were not any matches in Kolkata, I would go to Dehradun and do my studies. Luckily, my school did not force me to attend classes.

Was it tough keeping pace with studies?

It is tough if you don’t go to school and only play cricket. It is tough at times but that’s a challenge for anyone if you do anything apart from studies. But I was confident about myself. I used to study just for a month and clear my exams as compared to others who would study throughout the year. It was a challenge and to get through exams was a good feeling.

How many months in Kolkata and how many back home?

Depending on how many matches I got to play. With age, the time span of staying in Kolkata was increasing because I was playing second and first division league, trials and camps. Since I started playing for Bengal, my stay in Kolkata increased.

Did you play multiple tournaments as a youngster?

I have done a lot of that. I have played in Kolkata, Delhi, Nagpur and Dehradun. Whatever opportunity I got, I went and played. That probably helped me in being the cricketer I am right now.

What is your most memorable moment in Bengal?

Playing my first Ranji Trophy match. I was not really expecting that call. Playing for Bengal was a great moment.

How does your family keep track of your cricket?

Depends. My father has come down to see five Ranji matches in a season. There are times when he is busy at work and unable to come. I try and meet my mom. She does not travel much. She has watched some of my matches, along with my sister.

How have you gelled with the Bengal boys?

Pretty well. I have been playing since I was 11. I have got friends. Being with them for 13 years now, it has been a great journey. They love food and I love food. That’s probably been the biggest factor which has helped us gel more!

Who has been the biggest source of inspiration for you in Bengal cricket?

In the current team, Manoj Tiwary and Ashoke Dinda, who have done wonders. They have played so many years for Bengal and they have represented the country. To play with them and learn from them has been great. L. R. Shukla and Sourav Ganguly are also sources of inspiration. When we started playing cricket, Ganguly was the Indian captain. To see him play the way he did was great. Our coach Arun Lal has helped a lot. His hunger to win matches as a coach is a great motivation.

The moments you cherish...

Winning a trophy is the best feeling ever. We have lost a few finals. We won the KSCA tournament. Winning the Duleep Trophy, the Deodhar Trophy two years back in Dharamsala... these were great moments. Winning matches for Bengal is always special. If I can stay till the end and win the match for my team, then it is the best moment for me.

Did you expect to be the captain of Bengal?

I always wanted to lead my side from the front. But when I started playing for Bengal I never thought I would be the captain. Don’t really think about these things. If my team, selectors and association think that I need to do the job, I am ready.

How frustrating is it to miss out narrowly on an India berth?

Obviously, playing for the country is the dream when you start playing cricket or any other sport. Am waiting for that moment. Hopefully, it comes soon. But I am not really thinking about selection. All I can do is give my best every single day. It is really important for me if I can learn at least one thing every day, learn something from somebody and try and improve myself as a cricketer.

How have you improved?

The biggest improvement is when my conversion rate from 50s and 100s became better last year. I got a few hundreds and some of them were big ones, double hundreds also.

But there is a tough competition for the opener’s slot…

It is good to have healthy competition. That pushes you a little more. If any national side has good bench strength and if there are guys who are pushing each other to get to the top, then that is a really good sign. Right now India has the best team in all formats. Having a good bench strength makes sure that we have got good back-up. Having competition always motivates.

People slot you as a multi-day specialist…

I see myself as an all-format player. I have got runs in List A and T20 as well. I just focus on what format I play. I always wanted to be in all formats. If you are good at four-day, then it is easier to shift to white ball. Hardly makes a difference what people think.

“India A batsman Abhimanyu Easwaran, who scored 86 runs against Australia A, in action during the unofficial Test at Alur Grounds in Bengaluru in September 2018. “I have learnt a lot from those tours. We got to play alongside a few India international cricketers,” says Abhimanyu.   -  Sudhakara Jain

 

What have you learnt from the India A tours?

I have learnt a lot from those tours. We got to play alongside a few India international cricketers who have played at the highest level. Playing in different conditions, like West Indies, New Zealand and England, we got to know how the pitches behave there and how I need to improve my game playing in those conditions.

Who is your mentor?

There have been guys with whom I have been talking to about batting. I have my friend Abhishek Raman. There has been Apurva Desai. I have been working with him on cricket and different things about my batting, planning etc. He has been really helpful. I have learnt a lot from him.

Do you take all the advice?

I analyse it, think about it and talk to my mentor Mr. Desai and see if it suits my game.

When did you meet Desai?

My father met him and we had a few sessions and we gelled really well. The things he told me really helped me grow as a cricketer. I have been with him for six-seven years now.

Tell us about your father’s role in your career.

Since he has seen me play he follows every match. Sometimes he tells me things which even my coach does not. Whatever he feels he shares with me and we talk about cricket almost every day. He talks mostly about mental things.

What has been the toughest moment so far?

My first Ranji season. I played four matches — two group games, quarterfinal and semifinal. Playing at that level was a change for me because I had just played under-19 cricket. It was challenging. I did not get too many runs. I just got one 50 in the quarterfinals.

How does the mental strength help you?

It is one of the most important things. There is not too much difference in skill if you play at that level. It is about who can stay tough in a situation, who can maintain that pressure for a longer time and who can sustain it. That’s one of the important factors — be it a batsman, a bowler or a fielder. Staying away from home and playing in different places has made me mentally tough.

How do you tackle bowlers who are abusive?

Don’t have a certain plan for people like that. Whatever I feel I just do that. I have plans against bowlers — how to tackle them and get runs against them. But these things — it depends on what state of mind I am in at that point. There are times when I don’t reply and there are times I just reply in a different way.