For a cricketer who hadn’t had his taste of playing with a leather ball until he was seventeen years old, donning the Indian Test cap four years thereafter must have seemed a distant pipe dream. But Abhimanyu Mithun embarked on his cricketing journey with a bag full of dreams. A quick learner, the Bangalore lad announced himself to the Indian domestic circuit by finishing as the highest wicket taker in his debut Ranji Trophy season in 2009. His string of imposing performances made the selectors take notice of him and he was inducted into the Indian Test squad for a home series against South Africa only ten weeks after he made his First Class debut. Even though he got his international break in 2010 in the form of an ODI against South Africa at Ahmedabad, a call-up to the Test side was still a mile away as he had to wait another year before he laid his hands on the highly coveted Indian Test cap.
His moment of reckoning finally arrived on 18th July, 2010 when he was handed out the Test cap by Rahul Dravid at the Galle International Stadium. The match had a special significance for it was Lankan legend Muttiah Muralitharan’s farewell Test match. Mithun put up a courageous display on debut by picking up 4 wickets in the first innings and then scoring a solid 25 off 59 balls in the second innings to deny Sri Lanka an easy victory. Since then, he has been in and out of the national side; often called upon as replacements for the injured players. That said, he has managed to win two successive Ranji Trophy titles with Karnataka in the meantime and has played instrumental roles in both those title triumphs. A state-level discus thrower during his school days, the 6 feet 2 inch tall fast bowler is capable of hitting the 140 km/h mark consistently; something which we generally don’t tend to associate with Indian pacers.
Mithun has plied his trade for Royal Challengers Bangalore, Mumbai Indians and Sunrisers Hyderabad in the lucrative Indian Premier League. He won his maiden IPL title with Sunrisers Hyderabad earlier this year when it defeated Royal Challengers Bangalore in the final at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium. Apart from being a fiery pacer, Mithun is no pushover with the bat either. Besides scalping 211 wickets from 61 First Class games, he has also registered 1087 runs at an average of 19.07 (with 3 fifties) against his name. With India all set to play as many as many as ten Tests at home in the next few months, the selectors would want to keep a pack of fast bowlers ready to hand so as to ensure a bigger pool of players to choose from.
Recently, the Karnataka team was in Kolkata to lock horns with a robust Delhi side in a Group-B Ranji Trophy encounter at the Eden Gardens and after routing Gautam Gambhir’s men by an innings and 160 runs with a day to spare, the 26-year old pacer sat down with CricFit correspondent Ritam Basu to speak his mind on a wide range of issues, including his early years as a cricketer, his Test debut, the experience of sharing the dressing room with stalwarts like Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman, playing under Dhoni’s captaincy, winning the IPL and life after marriage on the premises of Hotel Hindustan International.
Q: How did you get into cricket?
Mithun: It all started when I played a lot of tennis ball cricket at school. I used to participate in all kinds of sports events during my school days and seeing that, many people advised me to try my luck in professional cricket. We also had a tennis ball team in our locality and we used to take part in various local tournaments.
Q: And you hadn’t bowled with a leather ball before you were seventeen years old..
Mithun: No, I hadn’t even seen a leather ball until I was seventeen. I had no idea whatsoever of what was playing cricket with a leather-ball like prior to that. Back in those days, I used to get fascinated seeing people wearing pads and playing with a leather ball since I had never played with one. In the back of my mind, I always used to wonder whether I would ever get an opportunity to play professional cricket.
Q: You were also a state-level discus thrower at one point in time which requires you to have a very strong arm. Is this a reason why you chose fast bowling?
Mithun: Not actually. It came to me naturally. I was more inclined towards batting in my initial days but when I joined the club, the coaches there didn’t give me much batting. They told me that I bat reasonably well and that I should bat in the senior nets.
Q: You had a dream debut in First Class cricket seven years ago where you picked up six wickets in the first innings and followed it with a five-for (including a hat-trick) in the second innings against a strong Uttar Pradesh unit. What do you remember from that game?
Mithun: Every little detail from that game is etched in my memory and will probably be for the remainder of my life. Rahul (Dravid) sir presented me with the cap and it intensified my determination to prove my mettle. Before my First Class debut, a lot of coaches had told me that I wasn’t ready for this level but I was happy to have proved them wrong. After the end of that game, our then head coach Mr. Sanath Kumar applauded me for the effort and said that I made him proud by repaying his faith in me.
Q:What was your bowling plan for that game?
Mithun: There wasn’t any plan as such as I was raw at that time. So before the game commenced, Rahul sir asked me to just bowl fast and not worry about anything else. And later when the match started the ball was swinging so much that it instilled a sense of confidence in me. I scalped two wickets at the beginning and carried forward the momentum for the entire duration of the game.
Q: You finished as the highest wicket-taker in the 2009/10 edition of the Ranji Trophy with 47 wickets. How did it bolster your confidence?
Mithun: Yes, it was a big confidence booster because playing for Karnataka at the age of 19 is no mean feat. The state has produced so many legends over the years, so it is bound to make any new player nervous. But once you start taking wickets, you tend to feel a lot more comfortable and the whole ambience around the team helped me learn a lot of new things. So overall it was a great first season!
Q: Did you often seek tips from the seniors like Dravid, Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad at that stage?
Mithun: I spoke a lot to Javagal Srinath sir and I had Venkatesh Prasad sir as the bowling coach while I was with RCB. Srinath sir has given me a lot of positivity and his advices have been really helpful. Dravid sir would be busy for a major part of the year with his international commitments, so he wouldn’t be available for Karnataka. Srinath sir used to come over to the net sessions at times and supervise us. It has been wonderful to have received so many inputs from a man of his calibre.
Q: Do you look up to Srinath as your mentor?
Mithun: Yes, I do.
Q: While you were with RCB, you shared the dressing room with figures such as Jacques Kallis and Dale Steyn. Could you cite some of your interactions with Steyn?
Mithun: Steyn has always been my role-model and spending two years with him at RCB was an experience of a lifetime. I have learned a lot from him and even now whenever he sees me, he comes over to inquire about my progress. He imparted to me plenty of tips in the net sessions during my stint with RCB like he asked me to focus more on the mental aspects of my game and the kind of mind-set with which I should step on the field. He’s indeed a great human being!
Q: Your erstwhile RCB coach Ray Jennings once called you an ‘express bowler’. What is the secret behind your ability to clock the 140 km/h mark consistently?
Mithun: See, if you want to be a good fast-bowler, you ought to be a good athlete. Fortunately, I have been good on that front since childhood. My father had been a body builder himself and now owns a gym, so I might have inherited these traits from him. So yeah, being a good athlete has really helped me generate such speeds on a consistent basis.
Q: Let us now discuss your international career. You made your Test debut against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2010. How did you prepare yourself before bowling against the likes of Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Dilshan?
Mithun: Again it was Dravid sir who presented me with my Test cap (a broad grin spreads over his face). Sachin sir, Dravid sir and Laxman sir were still playing at that time, so I was inspired to excel in front of them. I decided not to do anything ‘out of the box’ but stick to the basics. I wanted to pick up a five-wicket haul on debut but finished with one short. When you see your heroes appreciating you for your effort, those things probably stand out in your memory forever.
Q: Bowling on those lethargic surfaces must have been a bit difficult as a fast bowler.
Mithun: I have never bothered about pitches. So when I took to the field in Galle, I didn’t look at the wicket and just ran in to bowl my spells.
Q: In that Test, you were sent in to bat at no. 11 in the first innings and you hung around for a long time to score 8 runs. Then in the second innings, you were promoted to no. 9 and you scored a brisk 25. What kind of accolades did you receive from your teammates having put up such a brave heart display on debut?
Mithun: It came as a bit of surprise for everyone I suppose. The Sri Lankans must have never imagined me to bat that decently. I played well in the first innings and that’s why they promoted me up the batting order in the second innings. Those were crucial runs for us and I stayed at the crease for a few overs. So going up the batting order certainly helped.
Q: A legend in Muttiah Muralitharan was playing his final Test and he turned out to be the nemesis for the Indians in that game; picking up a match haul of 8 wickets. How did you handle him?
Mithun: Obviously it was not only a huge moment for Sri Lanka but also for us since a legend was playing his last Test match. Unable to dismiss me, he was flippantly asking me to get out but I didn’t throw away my wicket. He was repeatedly asking me why I was playing for so long and saying that I needed to get out. But I was unperturbed by that and made sure I clung on to one end for as long as possible.
Q: Do you sometimes rue not bowling alongside Zaheer Khan in international cricket?
Mithun: Zaheer bhai is one of the best bowlers our country has ever produced and bowling alongside him sharpens your knowledge about the game. He was my teammate at RCB but I regret not playing with him at the international level.
Q: A fast bowler is the most vulnerable species to injuries on a cricket field and you yourself have suffered a few niggles in the past. Did you ever think of compromising your pace?
Mithun: I have always believed that pace comes naturally and it doesn’t vanish in the spur of a moment. I feel that pace is in-built, so if you train methodically, you will regain your pace after an injury layoff.
Q: In the past though we have had examples like Munaf Patel who reduced his pace after recovering from a long injury layoff. It does play on a fast bowler’s mind. Doesn’t it?
Mithun: I am not aware of what injury Munaf bhai had suffered but there have been cases like this. One could also cite (Lakshmipathy) Balaji’s example. These players suffered big injuries and as a result had to reduce their pace. But I have always believed that if you train diligently during the off-season, you are less likely to be victimised by such injuries.
Q: You reckon bowling fast and being an express bowler is your biggest USP?
Mithun: Yes, you could say so. I have been bowling well for the past few seasons but I think I have been bowling quicker since last year.
Q: You and Vinay Kumar have formed a formidable pair for Karnataka in the seam-bowling department. Do you think it’s the best seam-bowling pair in the country at the moment as far as domestic cricket is concerned?
Mithun: I think so because we have won most of the domestic trophies of the country in the last 3 years or so which makes a big difference between Karnataka and all the other teams in the circuit. If you see the Karnataka line-up you will find the names of a lot of experienced campaigners in there and Vinay being my senior, offers me a lot of guidance which is probably what makes us such a challenging pair.
Q: Both of you are obviously two different types of bowlers. You rely more on pace whereas he hits the deck hard and nips the ball around. How does having this kind of a variety help a side?
Mithun: If you see, both of us bowl from different ends, so the opposition batsmen tend to negotiate our overs as much as possible and then look to target the other bowlers in the side. And if you bring Aravind into the picture as well you will notice that he has been doing pretty well for us as the third seamer. For Aravind, coming into the attack as the first change bowler and picking up so many wickets speaks volumes about his competence. I and Vinay try to bowl in the right areas so that the marks can be exploited well by the third or fourth bowler. That’s how we plan.
Q: Did you miss Vinay in the game against Delhi at the Eden Gardens? How was it spearheading the Karnataka pace attack?
Mithun: Yes, he (Vinay Kumar) was missed mainly because of the experience he has under his belt. But everybody chipped in with vital contributions which helped us seal a victory at Eden. It was good to spearhead an attack which is steeped in history.
Q: Does having a pacer as the captain help the other bowlers in the side?
Mithun: Yes, definitely because if you are not bowling good lines in, he points out the areas where you are going wrong as he too possesses the psychology of a bowler. So these things really prove beneficial.
Q: You had a dismal campaign in the Ranji Trophy last season. What have you been doing differently to avoid such slip-ups this year?
Mithun: Last year it was painful to be knocked out of the group stages of the tournament and the boys are resolute to turn things this time around. We have marked out the areas where we went wrong in 2015 and chalked out plans to rectify the bloopers. We are having more practice sessions this year as compared to last season. Many of our boys were busy playing for India-A last year. Hence most of them couldn’t attend the practice sessions. But this season, we have gelled well as a team which should come in handy. We are taking one match at a time.
Q: Indian players have a jam-packed calendar nowadays owing to the presence of a series of different tournaments. Don’t you think playing multitudes of tournaments throughout the year deprives a fast bowler of adequate recovery time?
Mithun: I don’t think so. If you are a professional cricketer, you will have to look after your body. If you want to succeed in any sport, let alone cricket; you need to be well aware about the limitations of your body as in which training method you should follow and how to have enough recovery time before you play your next match. So playing cricket all year around doesn’t affect us adversely.
Q: Did the conditions at Eden play a part in deciding the outcome of the game against Delhi?
Mithun: Firstly, we didn’t know anything about the nature of the wicket before the match started, so we won the toss and elected to bat first. I bowled pretty well in the last game as well and thereby I was confident going into the second game against Delhi. I picked up two wickets each in both innings and also broke a budding partnership. Aravind was of course the stand out bowler in the first innings, picking up 4 wickets and later, the spinners, especially our off-spinner (Krishnappa Gowtham) also came into play. I reckon we made good use of the pitch conditions at Eden. The batsmen too did really well to post a total in excess of 400 on that seaming-wicket.
Q: The Delhi line-up boasts of batsmen like GautamGambhir, Unmukt Chand and Rishabh Pant- all of whom have had a good run of late. Did you formulate any specific strategy before bowling against them?
Mithun: We had plans for each and every player and we knew we had to bowl very accurately because Delhi being a powerful side, could clout us if we didn’t bowl in the right areas.
Q: You bowled with the pink ball in this year’s IraniCup for India Blue. Most batsmen haven’t advocated for the use of the pink ball. What is your opinion about it?
Mithun: Actually we played at Noida where the wicket was flat, so I won’t be able to tell you how it behaves on lively pitches. It was difficult to bowl on such a flat wicket. The ball would soften by the first 20 overs and after that it would stop swinging. Moreover you couldn’t distinguish between the shine on either side of the ball which took reverse swing out of the equation. But in our second game we perhaps got a different ball which was pretty hard. It might turn out to be a better proposition if you play on surfaces that are better suited to seam-bowling.
Q: Would you like to play with the pink ball again?
Mithun: I would like to bowl with it on a good ground because if you play with it on a ground whose outfield is swampy, the ball might soften and not make for good bowling.
Q: How about bowling with the pink ball at the Eden Gardens?
Mithun: It would be brilliant because of the conditions you get in Kolkata.
Q: You have scalped 6 wickets in the Ranji Trophy so far. You think you are in good rhythm?
Mithun: It’s too early to say so. We have played only a couple of games and there are a lot of matches still left to be played but I am confident about taking a lot of wickets this season.
Q: The BCCI has started conducting Ranji Trophy games at neutral venues. Do you think it’s a good initiative?
Mithun: You could look at it in two ways. You get to spend a lot of time with your teammates, which helps you develop a better understanding with your colleagues but I am not too sure about how the team managementis viewing it.
Q: Apart from Karnataka, which other teams are major contenders for Ranji Trophy 2016/17 according to you?
Mithun: Mumbai is the first name that comes to your mind. Punjab and Rajasthan are strong sides too.
Q: T20 cricket demands the application of a lot of improvisations from the bowlers. Have you been working on any variation lately?
Mithun: I bowl good yorkers and have been putting special emphasis on slower balls in recent times.
Q: This season has been a memorable one for you as far as the T20 format is concerned. You were part of the triumphant Sunrisers Hyderabad side in the IPL. How was it winning the trophy on your home-turf for a franchise from a different city?
Mithun: I shared the SRH dressing room with people like Trent (Boult), Mustafizur (Rahman), Bhuvi (Bhuvaneshwar Kumar) and Ashish (Nehra) bhai and we exchanged a lot of things amongst ourselves. Ashish bhai shared a lot of good things from his experience of playing international cricket and Mustafizur can’t speak English, so there was Ricky Bhui who used to serve as his translator. Talking about the final, although many expected us to fade away after Gayle scored his fifty; we backed ourselves to go the distance. Once Gayle got out, they (RCB) found it tough to keep pace with the scoring rate and we took our chances in the field. Winning the IPL against RCB in Bangalore was obviously a different sort of feeling but at the end of the day it’s all about winning the trophy, so I was happy to have ended up with the winning team.
Q: We believe you have an extensive collection of cricket caps in your possession. Tell us something about that.
Mithun: Yes, I have kept them as souvenirs of all the teams I have represented in my career. You will find my IPL caps, Test, ODI and India-A caps, Ranji caps, KPL caps and junior state-level caps in there.
Q: You have played under both MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli. Whose captaincy has brought out the best in you?
Mithun: Both. Can’t choose between them.
Q: You are a gym freak as we all know. How do you keep yourself fit?
Mithun: Following a healthy diet and taking the help of a trainer are two necessary elements of staying fit. Pool sessions are also vital recovery tools.
Q: Some tips that you would like to share with the budding cricketers who are reading this interview?
Mithun: 1. Consume adequate fluids and keep a healthy diet.
- You should have a good knowledge about your body
and not look to overdo things which in turn may lead to a muddled situation.
- Be disciplined and try to run every day.
Q: Are you working harder on your batting these days?
Mithun: Batting came to me naturally. Whenever I finish bowling in the training sessions, I practise batting indoors. And then there are seniors like Robbie pa (Robin Uthappa) who help us get the technical part right. He works very hard on his own batting which also rubs off on us.
Q: You recently got married. How has life been post marriage?
Mithun: I have a lot of responsibilities over my shoulders now both on and off the field. My in-laws are very meticulous, so being around with them gives me a lot of inspiration.
Q: Mithun, we have a rapid fire segment coming up next. Are you ready?
Q: Your nickname?
Mithun: Most of my teammates call me ‘Bolt’ because they think I run very fast (guffaws).
Q: Your favourite cuisine?
Mithun: All types of Indian dishes.
Q: Favourite holiday destination?
Mithun: South Africa and Greece.
Q: Your favourite ground?
Mithun: My home ground, M. Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Mithun: The ‘Rocky’ series.
Q: Favourite actor?
Mithun: Shah Rukh Khan.
Q: Favourite actress?
Mithun: Shruti Hasan.
Q: Favourite song?
Mithun: Can’t really answer this one.
Q: Your hobbies?
Mithun: Playing snooker and dart.
Q: Any superstition?
Mithun: Whenever I pick wickets wearing a particular set of match clothes, I prefer to continue with that for a few matches.
Q: A celebrity you dream of clicking a dualfie with.
Mithun: Stephen Curry.
Q: Do you think of yourself as an all-rounder?
Mithun: Hmmm.. (Pauses for a while and continues) yes, a bowling all-rounder.
Q: Most difficult batsman you have ever bowled against?
Mithun: Sachin Tendulkar for sure.
Q: Describe captain Dhoni in one word.
Mithun: The best.
Q: Any anecdote about ‘Dhoni, the captain’ which is still fresh in your mind?
Mithun: In the fourth innings of the second Test (at Bridgetown) of our tour of West Indies in 2011, there was a big partnership between Darren Bravo and their wicket-keeper (Carlton Baugh). So he (Dhoni) came up to me, handed over the ball and entrusted me with the job of breaking partnership. I eventually went on to break the partnership and was happy for I could repose his faith in me.
Q: Your favourite cricketing moment as of yet.
Mithun: Winning back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles.
Q: Imagine yourself bowling the final over of an IPL match against AB de Villiers where he needs 10 runs to win his side the game. How would you bowl to him?
Mithun: Why should I reveal my plan beforehand (laughs)?
Q: Best compliment you have ever received from any cricketer.
Mithun: Quite a few players have said that I work very hard. That’s a major compliment for me.
Q: The Indian pace attack iscurrently like a jigsaw puzzle not put together. Do you see yourself making a comeback into the national side before next year’s ICC Champions Trophy in England?
Mithun: To be honest, I am not looking too far ahead. My preparation has been good and my primary objective at the moment is to help Karnataka reach the knockouts of the Ranji Trophy. If the selectors find my performances satisfactory, I am sure they will consider my name again for the national team. But as I said, I am focussing on the Ranji Trophy more than anything else at present.
Q: What is your target for 2016/17?
Mithun: I am in good form right now and people who have been seeing me for many years have told me that I look an improved bowler, so I want to carry on doing the good work..