Abhimanyu Easwaran vows to work harder after being overlooked for the SA tour

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By Ashish Satyam

Abhimanyu Easwaran might consider himself a little unlucky after missing out on the South Africa tour. The Bengal opener was in fine form in India A’s recently-concluded shadow tour of South Africa, where he played in all three four-day games in Bloemfontein. He registered scores of 103, 0, 55, 28 and 19 in the five innings he batted.

Instead, selectors picked fellow India A opener Priyank Panchal once India’s Test vice-captain Rohit Sharma was ruled out of the three-match Test series against South Africa after an old hamstring injury resurfaced during the team’s net session in Mumbai.

But the 26-year-old, who was also a part of the Indian dressing room during the England tour, is not troubled by the rejection and vows to score more runs in the future to earn his elusive Test cap.

“Team selection does not bother me,” he says to The Indian Express. “It is a dream to play for my country, and if I keep getting runs, one day, I will make it to the playing XI.”

The batter might be a sixth choice Test opener for India – after Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Shubman Gill, and Panchal – but the diminutive player is ready for a fight.

“It’s always great to have competition, and especially in India, there are a lot of good cricketers who perform at domestic cricket and for India A. I think it’s really good to have a good competition,” says Easwaran, who hasn’t fallen off the radar of the national selectors.

His stock has risen significantly since his breakout Ranji Trophy season in 2018-19, when he scored 861 runs at an average of 95.66. Then came a dip the following campaign, when as Bengal captain he managed to muster just 258 runs from 17 innings at a meager average of 17.20.

The Omicron challenge in South Africa

The new Covid-19 variant, Omicron, overshadowed Easwaran’s feisty knocks on the challenging South African pitches. The opener recalled how the team remained in a water-tight environment during the near five-week tour.

“BCCI took a call on the tour, and we trusted the decision. In my personal opinion, the bio-bubble was safe and secure for the players,” he says.

“Quarantine was not that tough, but we were in a bubble, so we could only go to the ground and come back. Of course, being in South Africa, we always want to go out and see places, but you know how important is it to be safe.”

Content with the bio-bubble arrangements, Easwaran did however accept that living in the restricted environment was a challenge and by no means an easy task.

“It is challenging to be in a bio-bubble throughout the year, but then with time and as professionals, we need to adjust with the conditions; we cannot help it. We are used to it now,” he claims.

Learnings from Kohli and Rohit

The Bengal batter was part of India’s Test squad for the England tour earlier this year. India was leading the five-match Test series by 2-1 before the tour was called off due to the Covid-19 outbreak in the Indian camp – the final Test will be played next year in July.

Easwaran says the biggest takeaway for him during the England tour was watching how senior batters like Virat Kohli and Rohit get into their stride before a Test match.

“Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma have amazing self-belief. The way they prepare and have that belief that they will go out and win matches for the country is truly unique. I was lucky to watch them prepare from close quarters,” he recalls.

“The hunger they have to succeed is what makes them a cut above the rest. It was a great learning experience for me too because (I got to see what ) what it takes to play cricket at the highest level.”

From Dehradun to Kolkata

The Bengal-team mainstay hails from a privileged background in Dehradun. And he has an intriguing story of eventually moving from city near the Himalayan foothills to Kolkata.

His father, RP Easwaran, one of the country’s leading chartered accountants, built an academy for his son in Dehradun – the ‘Abhimanyu Cricket Academy.’ The state of Uttarakhand however, at the time, was not affiliated with the BCCI, prompting the family to look elsewhere to promote young Abhimanyu’s cricketing endeavours.

“I was young and I had no idea about these things. My father decided to take me to Kolkata when I was 10. I started playing in the local leagues and when I was 14, I got selected for the Bengal U-16 squad,” he says.

“All that does not matter when you enter the field. I don’t think much about it because when you enter the field, it is a battle between bat and ball, so I just enjoy the game, and these thoughts don’t really come to my mind.”

The ‘red-ball cricketer’ tag

Easwaran has been a prolific run-scorer in all age groups, but the ‘red-ball specialist’ tag stuck to him for long despite scoring heavily in white-ball cricket.

“I think I have got a lot of runs in List A and T20 cricket as well. If you see my stats, I have done well. I would not say that I am only made to play red-ball cricket. I would call myself an all-format cricketer,” he explains.

The Bengal cricketer dreams of playing in the Indian Premier League (IPL) and is hopeful that he will get his due chance soon.

“It is something I want to be a part of. I have been working on my game, and hopefully, I will make the cut in the future,” he concludes.

Of course, being dressed in the blue of India is the biggest he covets the most.

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