Varun Shetty in Kolkata


Until his late teens, Abhimanyu Mithun was an aspiring discus thrower who hadn’t bowled with a leather ball. Two years after he first did that, he debuted for Karnataka, and took a hat-trick on debut to match Javagal Srinath’s record. He finished as the highest wicket-taker that season, won a Border-Gavaskar scholarship for a stint at Cricket Australia’s Centre of Excellence, and made his Test debut within nine months of being a first-class cricketer.

On his birthday late in October last year, Mithun took a hat-trick in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final as Karnataka beat Tamil Nadu to the title. A month later, another hat-trick. This time in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy semi-final against Haryana. But he didn’t stop there, going on to pick up five wickets in that over, becoming possibly only the second man ever to achieve that feat in a T20.

Nothing is ever subtle with Mithun.

Except his own take on these devastating feats as he prepares for his seventh semi-final appearance for Karnataka.

“I feel it’s been a very good season for me. I think it’s all about winning trophies. We’ve already won two trophies, and now in the Ranji Trophy we’re in the semis. We’re close to the Ranji finals, so I feel it’s a very good season for me,” was Mithun’s understated assessment of the season so far.

Mithun has already won the treble twice with Karnataka, with the team triumphant in the Ranji Trophy, Irani Cup and Vijay Hazare Trophies in 2013-14 and 2014-15. He could add a third treble this season, that of the Syed Mushtaq Ali, Vijay Hazare and Ranji Trophy titles. For that, first Karnataka will need to beat Bengal in the semi-final that begins Saturday. Given all that, it is a humble description of a performance without which Karnataka might well have been eliminated in the group stages in the Ranji Trophy.

Rarely have Karnataka been at full strength this Ranji season, with batsmen Mayank Agarwal, KL Rahul, and Manish Pandey now featuring regularly for the Indian team. A similar lack of consistency in selection has been forced on the bowling front too, with injuries to Prasidh Krishna and K Gowtham at different points, and a dip in form for Shreyas Gopal forcing Karnataka to tinker with their line-up often.

In the middle of all that changing, Mithun has quietly put in important performances – sometimes even with the bat – that have catalysed many comebacks through the course of the season. It began with a spell against Uttar Pradesh, where the wickets of centurion Aryan Juyal and Rinku Singh led to UP folding for 281 from 215 for 3. His seven against Railways set up a bonus-point win, and his three wickets in an over against Baroda – including those of Deepak Hooda and Krunal Pandya off consecutive deliveries – bowled them out for 85.

In the outright win against Mumbai, he dismissed Prithvi Shaw, Ajinkya Rahane, Suryakumar Yadav (in both innings) and Siddesh Lad – Mumbai’s mainstays. This season, Mithun has bowled long spells and brought a lot of relief to a young team.

His favourite spell, however, came in a close battle against Madhya Pradesh for first-innings points that Karnataka couldn’t win thanks to a last-wicket stand of 40.

“In that spell I went all out. I bowled some 6 or 7 overs and I gave my best and got two wickets. It was a very flat wicket and we had already bowled two days – it was the end of the third day and if you come and bowl that [type of] spell, obviously it gives you motivation and satisfaction as a fast bowler,” Mithun said.

In his 11th season as a fast bowler, Mithun doesn’t quite hit the express pace that he used to regularly at the start of his career, but his sinewy, broad-shouldered frame has remained a feature, as has his fitness. In the off-season, he worked on his speed through his run-up and on his running technique. In fast bowling, he says, if you change a little, you can get a lot of results. The change over the last decade has mostly been mental.

“Yeah I feel like a completely different bowler because obviously I’ve got experience now and I know I’m doing the right things, with the training part and the practice. I feel I’ve matured enough to know what my body needs to prepare for a good match. And obviously every day after you bowl, how to recover and come back and again give that good amount of bowling for the captain, how much ever he needs,” Mithun said.

In that maturing and planning lies a hint about all the occasions where he’s got wickets in a bunch.

“[Against Baroda] First spell I bowled really well but I didn’t get those wickets. Second spell when I came back…I knew when I get that first wicket, I can go and attack the [new] batsman. That first wicket I got against Baroda and then back-to-back I got two wickets,” he said.

He may not clock close to 140kph on a regular basis, but his strengths of skidding deliveries into batsmen, hurrying them with short deliveries and attacking stumps with full lengths have remained the hallmarks of his dismissals: much like they were when he was part of the deadly trio of himself, Vinay Kumar, and S Aravind that dominated domestic cricket for many years.

But the 30-year-old chuckles at any suggestions that he is now a senior in this team, given that Vinay has moved on to Puducherry and Aravind is now on Karnataka’s coaching team.

“I played with Vinay and Arvind and everyone knew how dominant we were, and we won so many trophies as well together. I feel nothing has changed. Me, Manish Pandey and all have played together since the juniors. Sometimes they treat me like I’m the senior,” he says with a laugh, “But when it comes to my mind, I’m not a senior. We all played together in the Under-19s and I’m still 30. I have so many years left.”

It is a good reminder. It is possible for players who were wunderkinds to seem like they’ve been around for much longer than they have. Consider that Mithun debuted in an XI that had a 39-year-old Sunil Joshi who only retired two years later, and he is very much now playing alongside a third generation of Karnataka players.

In those early years of extreme success, former India and Karnataka bowler Venkatesh Prasad had said that Mithun should treat national selection as a benchmark – “that he’s capable of getting into the team, capable of playing for the country.” Mithun continues to be motivated by that prospect.

“I want to just play the next level, so that’s my motivation,” he said about keeping the vigour this far into his career. “Obviously if I bowl well, somewhere down the line I will get one chance. […] Whenever I get a chance, I perform well, and you never know – one good chance can change things.”

Against a swelling pool of young fast bowlers in the country, it is an increasingly difficult thing to aspire to. But one has always brought two – sometimes five – for Mithun, Karnataka’s serial winner.

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