The strength of Indian cricket is such that they can now contemplate playing two - or even three - teams simultaneously. While the Indian Test team is in England for the World Test Championship final and a five-Test series, the white ball specialists are set to tour Sri Lanka for a limited-overs series. There is a problem of plenty within these squads too. One such dilemma is the opening combination options for the Test squad; India have Rohit Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul currently, with Prithvi Shaw not too far behind.
Even as India enjoy this ‘good headache’, the next crop is getting ready too. One such name making gradual steps towards the big stage is Abhimanyu Easwaran, the Bengal captain. A consistent performer in domestic cricket and a regular in India A sides over the last two seasons, Abhimanyu is a part of the ‘standby’ list of players set to travel with the Test squad to England. The right-handed opener was a part of the training squad for the home series against England as well.
Abhimanyu has 4401 runs from 64 first-class matches, averaging close to 44 with 13 centuries. He came into the limelight in the 2018-19 season, where he smashed 861 runs from just 6 Ranji Trophy matches at an average of 95.66. It included a double century against Punjab apart from two other scores in excess of 180. By the start of the next season, he made a century in the Duleep Trophy final, and a double ton against the visiting Sri Lankans in Bangalore.
By the next season, he was appointed captain of Bengal at just 23. The season didn’t quite go well for Abhimanyu the batsman (258 runs from 10 matches), but the captain had a good run, leading Bengal to the final where they lost to Saurashtra.
“It was disappointing not to win the cup, because I felt we had a better team than them," he chuckles. “But leading Bengal was a really good moment in my life. Coming to Bengal at such a young age and then being able to lead was special."
Abhimanyu’s journey in cricket started even before he came to Bengal as a 10-year-old. His father, Ranganathan Parameshwaran Easwaran, was passionate about the game although he couldn’t make it a career due to the family’s financial situation. He switched over to Chartered Accountancy while building a cricket academy in Dehradun in 1988. He named it the Abhimanyu Cricket Academy.
Before one thinks he built it for - and named it after - his son, Abhimanyu points out the obvious. He was born only in 1995.
“For some reason he named it Abhimanyu Cricket Academy," he tells Cricketnext. “When I was born… my mom is a Punjabi, my dad is a Tamilian, so they were a little confused with what name they should keep. So they kept it Abhimanyu because it was a name that would work on both sides.
“So the academy wasn’t specifically named because of me. It turned out to be that… never thought he would make such a big stadium and everything. It just happened."
A father passionate about the game, and a son named after his academy. Cricket was the natural path for Abhimanyu. Easwaran did everything he could to facilitate his son’s passion; he took him to different cities before fixing on Kolkata, leaving his 10-year-old son to pursue his career there.
Abhimanyu lived away from his family and with his coach Nirmal Sengupta in a place close to the Bengal capital.
“My dad has been the biggest motivator and biggest critic. He has been the biggest support in my cricket life till now. He used to come for a few games every year, but mostly he wasn’t there when I was in Calcutta," he says. “It looks difficult when you see it from another angle, but for me, the love for the game was so much that… obviously there was a thing that I was away from my parents, but we used to practice in the morning and then again in the evening. Then our coach used to make us study in the evening as well, just to make sure we study a little.
“There was hardly any time to do much, the love for the game kept me going. Playing 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the evening made me feel great, so I was happy just being able to play so much cricket. And being able to play so many tournaments… it made it so much easier for me."
The rise was rapid, which took a major step with a first-class debut in 2013 as an 18-year-old. In five years’ time, he had his biggest season, catapulting him to the top.
“Just being able to score so consistently in first-class cricket and India A team gave me a lot of confidence. It made me believe that I was a much-improved cricketer because of the consistency. Made me feel a better player," he says.
The bigger steps kept coming. He got a chance to observe Virat Kohli and co prepare for Test matches against England recently.
“We only see Tests on TV, but being able to see Kohli, Rahane, and Pujara prepare for a Test was good. The intensity they had at practice, it was like a match," he says.
“I had interactions with everybody. Not long interactions, they were short but that gave me a lot of confidence. Because when a Ravi Shastri or anybody from the support staff or a Virat Kohli talks to you, it gives you confidence. That was really motivating."
Having impressed them, he now has another chance in the form of the England tour. He isn’t in the original squad, but given the way things went in Australia, you just never know. Abhimanyu knows that and is preparing for any such situation at the academy he shares his name with.
“For now, my mindset is to be ready for every opportunity I get. So I just want to prepare the best I can, keep learning every day I am with the team. Pick up clues of what can be done, English conditions, and just things that could help me when I get my opportunity. Getting a chance or not is not in my hands but if I could just come back a better player, I’ll be happy.
“I’m trying to bat with a red ball. I’ve been playing a lot of white-ball cricket recently. Trying to simulate English conditions. Not easy, but batting early in the morning with new balls on green wickets. These are things which I can control."