21, 76, 86, 186, 2, 2, 57, 40, 183*, 7 and 201*. 861 runs from 11 innings at an average of 95.67. Bengal’s Abhimanyu Easwaran has been touted as one of the future prospects for the Indian Test team since his U-19 days, but his career graph before the 2018/19 Ranji Trophy season lacked that essential thrust which a player—especially one who is on the periphery of a national call-up—requires to advance his case in a country where hundreds of equally-talented players jostle each other for a spot in the national team every season. Having obtained the thrust now, the twenty-three-year-old looks much more confident about converting his seventies and eighties into big hundreds, which had hitherto been a concern for him as well as for Bengal. The unbeaten 183 which Easwaran scored against Delhi in a crucial Group A fixture for Bengal at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata demonstrated that he not only has a sound technique to withstand the rigours of four-day/five-day cricket, but also the nerves and a calm head which are as important requirements to succeed at the international level. Despite Bengal’s capricious performance in the Ranji Trophy this season—largely due to mediocre contributions from half of the players—Easwaran features in the list of the top ten run-getters of the tournament, and with KL Rahul and Murali Vijay being in underwhelming form of late, it might not come as a surprise if the selectors mull considering him for the slot of the third opener in the Indian Test squad soon.
A regular member of the India A team since 2017, Easwaran credits his recent improvement to the tutelage of India A and India U-19 coach Rahul Dravid and the motivating influences of C.A.B President Sourav Ganguly, Bengal mentor Arun Lal, and batting consultant of the Vision 2020 programme VVS Laxman. Seemingly shy and modest, Abhimanyu also emphasizes that every feat he has achieved so far is a testament to his father R.P Easwaran’s many sacrifices that were made with a view to seeing his son don the Indian Test cap someday. A chartered accountant by profession and a promising club cricketer in his youth, Easwaran senior’s not-so-sound financial background had meant that he had to subordinate his cricketing passion to the compulsion of earning his bread. His zeal for the game brooded the conception of the Abhimanyu Cricket Academy in 1998—one of the first-rate cricket academies in the country now, located in Dehra Dun. Having established his credentials as one of the top young cricketers on the domestic circuit today, Abhimanyu is living two dreams—his own and that of his father’s.
CricFit correspondent Ritam Basu caught up with him at the Eden Gardens a couple of days prior to Bengal U-23 team’s semi-final tie against Vidarbha for the Colonel C.K Nayudu Trophy 2018/19.
Q: From an average of 40 prior to the start of the Ranji season to an average of 49 now. Surely, this must be the result of some particular process that you’ve been following…
Easwaran: There are a few technical changes that I’ve incorporated in my batting and a few mental adjustments as well. This season, the best thing was that whenever I got a start I made them into big scores. My game plan was to spend a lot of time at the crease, and I think I applied myself really well.
Q: There was never a question about your talent, but one aspect of your game which was hitherto criticised was your inability to convert your 70s and 80s into bigger scores. This season you got over that criticism by recording scores like 186, 183* and 201*. To what would you attribute this new found penchant for consistently churning out such big hundreds?
Easwaran: I played a few games for India A before the start of the season, so I think that experience really came in handy during the Ranji Trophy because when you are playing for India A, you are playing a level higher than the Ranji Trophy. I was very hungry to get big scores. As I said before, I think my application was much better this season compared to the previous seasons. I was just trying to stay in the present and play as any particular situation demanded. I am also working a lot on my fitness these days. Fitness is of paramount importance for any player—especially for an opener—playing the longer formats because after fielding for so many overs, you just get the time to change and then come out to face the new ball.
Q: You have become a regular for the Indian A team of late. How has the international exposure helped you so far?
Easwaran: New Zealand is a beautiful country! Most of the bowlers whom we faced on that tour have played international cricket. Playing against such bowlers gives you an idea about the standard of cricket which is played at the highest level. The conditions over there are very different from what we are used to here in India, so initially it took me some time to get accustomed to those conditions. The discussions that I had with my coach Apurva Desai before leaving India benefitted me a lot.
Q: What issues pertaining to your game have been specifically addressed by Rahul Dravid?
Easwaran: I have known Rahul sir for a year now, for I spent almost six months playing for India A last year. We had many one-to-one conversations. I had played two Ranji games before I went to New Zealand and had made 70s and 80s in both those games. I was concerned about missing out on hundreds and I spoke to Rahul sir about it. He told me that I was a lot more concerned about getting hundreds rather than focussing on my game. All he said was that I needed to stay in the present and not look too far ahead because if I bat for two-and-a-half-hours and make 70, then by spending an hour more at the crease I can get my hundred. This piece of advice helped me a lot.
Q: The Bengal dressing room was in a tumultuous state before Arun Lal was roped in as mentor. Have things become calmer now?
Easwaran: Yeah, things are a lot better now.
Q: Arun Lal, who was himself one of the top openers in the country during his playing days, has always insisted on playing a positive brand of cricket. What kind of interactions have you had with him, and how has his guidance influenced your game?
Easwaran: He has been a legend for Bengal cricket and being around him always motivates us. He has always motivated us irrespective of the match situation, and he keeps saying that we can win a game from any situation. He is very accessible. We can talk to him anytime about our batting. Just look how he has survived mouth cancer; that in itself is such a big inspiration!
Q: What did he tell you after the 186 which you scored against Hyderabad?
Easwaran: He was happy. Every time there was a drinks break, he kept telling me that I needed to hold one end and bat for as many overs as possible. I stayed almost till the end and was the ninth batsman to get out. So, he was happy that I could stay till the end and our team got to a good total.
Q: Looking back at Bengal’s 2018/19 Ranji Trophy campaign, how would you assess your team’s performance?
Easwaran: We played some good cricket; we won two games after conceding the first innings lead, which was really appreciated. We needed to be more consistent. We failed to deliver in some crucial situations and let many chances slip through our fingers. In the game against Punjab, for example, we did well to put up a good total in the second innings after being bowled out for 180  in the first innings. Had we done better in those situations, we could’ve made the knockouts.
Q: Why according to you does the team lose its way midway through season after season?
Easwaran: I think we do not start well. Talking about this season, be it either with batting or bowling, we were mostly behind. On the other hand, in the games we won outright (against Tamil Nadu and Delhi) and also in the second innings against Punjab, we did well because we started well.
The management has talked to the players individually and pointed out the areas where we need to improve. We’ll work on those things and hopefully we will do well in the upcoming T20 tournament and next season’s Ranji Trophy.
Q: The spot for the third opener in the Indian Test team is now wide open with Rahul and Vijay having underperformed in recent times. Where do you see yourself in the competition at the moment?
Easwaran: I don’t look to compete with anybody. I just try to give my hundred percent on the field in every game. Selection [in the Indian team] will happen when it has to happen.
Q: Have you received any message from the national selectors?
Easwaran: Devang [Gandhi] sir called me and said that I have done well.
(Devang Gandhi is the East Zone representative in the five-member national selection panel)
Q: What have Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman had to say about your performance?
Easwaran: Sourav sir met us before every home game and he is happy with the way I’ve been progressing. We also had a long discussion before I flew off to New Zealand wherein he addressed my problem of not being able to convert the starts into bigger scores. He told me not to look at the scoreboard and just keep batting, which I think I’ve managed to do well this season. Laxman sir might come to Kolkata before the start of the T20 tournament. He sent across a message to congratulate me after the Delhi game.
Q: What are the areas in your game that you still think require improvement?
Easwaran: There are a few shots and few areas that I am really trying to improve on. [I am] Not divulging much here.
Q: Your father, as you’ve always maintained, has been your biggest critic. What is his opinion about your improvement?
Easwaran: He is obviously very happy. As I said just now, there are a few areas that I am still working on and I keep discussing such things with him in order to know his perspective on the same.
QUICK SINGLES WITH ABHIMANYU EASWARAN
Your favourite holiday destination?
Easwaran: ‘Macher jhol’ (fish curry) and Biryani.
Can you cook?
Easwaran: No (giggles).
Easwaran: The last movie I watched was Uri: The Surgical Strike. Loved it!
Easwaran: Ranveer Singh.
Easwaran: Deepika Padukone.
What is the last book you read?
Easwaran: Rafael Nadal’s autobiography.
Easwaran: Watching movies, listening to music and spending time with friends.
Best friends in the Bengal dressing room?
Easwaran: Abhishek Raman and Ritwik Roy Chowdhury.
Describe the following people/things in one word each.
Rahul Dravid: Idol
Sourav Ganguly: Inspiration.
The Bengal crest: Honour.
Your father: The best.
Your vision for the Abhimanyu Cricket Academy?
Easwaran: To support more and more budding cricketers, so that they can go on to play for India.
The Indian Test cap is…
Easwaran: Hopefully it comes soon.
Q: Do you rue missing out on the IPL, or do you think staying away from its glitz and glamour helps you maintain your focus on the longer formats of the game?
Easwaran: I don’t think too much about these things. I try to concentrate on whatever assignment is next in hand. My priority has always been red-ball cricket, but I’ve also done well in List-A cricket. I am trying to improve my game for the white-ball format, and hopefully I will get a chance to play in the IPL soon.
Q: I’ve heard many people opine that Abhimanyu Easwaran needs to leave Bengal and move over to some other state if he wants to realize his dream of playing for India soon. Their argument is that Bengal has traditionally been one of the least favoured states as far as national selection is concerned. What would you say to them?
Easwaran: I don’t think so. Bengal has nurtured my talent and I don’t see any reason why I should move over to any other state.