Before the start of the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy season, Stuart Binny made it clear that he had not given up his hopes of a recall to the Indian team, even though Hardik Pandya was firmly established as the seam-bowling allrounder of choice.
Some might have laughed off his “goal” as yet another benchwarmer moment of wishful thinking, but four games into the domestic season, those who doubted his ability as an allrounder have been forced to take notice of what can only be described as the evolution of Binny.
Binny has always had good, rather than breathtaking overall first-class figures. He has 4,109 runs and 128 wickets from 82 games since his debut in 2003, but when India were on the lookout for an elusive seam-bowling allrounder option, Binny was in the running along with Pandya and Rishi Dhawan. At least that’s what MSK Prasad, the chief selector, wanted us to believe.
In this process of elimination, Binny played six Tests, 14 One-Day Internationals and three Twenty20 Internationals. He didn’t inspire confidence throughout but there were a few standout performances, like the 78 on his debut against England at Nottingham and the 6 for 4 in 4.4 overs against Bangladesh in the second ODI in Dhaka.
And yet, in 2016 August, he played his last game for the national side, a T20I in the United States against Windies. Pandya has since cemented the spot, and has done enough to maintain that position for some time to come. Binny, on the other hand, is in Alur (2) plying his skills for Karnataka.
The start of his domestic season against Assam was promising, 41 runs and a wicket in 10 overs over two innings. The next game showed that he had, in fact, matured considerably as a cricketer with two quality knocks with Karnataka’s back against the wall. He made a brilliant 61 from 88 balls in the first innings, despite the team only coming up with 183 runs.
“I would rate this innings in the top three, for sure. It’s been positive, the ball was in my area and I was going for it. I didn’t worry too much about what was happening. I think it’s how I think the previous night that makes me bat the way I bat in the morning. I wake up being positive and not worrying about failures and just worrying about watching the ball and hitting it. I don’t want to worry too much, thinking what if I make a mistake, will I be in, will I be out, or if will I get to the 1,000 runs? Thousand runs was just a goal I set. I may not reach it or I may go above it, but it’s a process of getting there that’s important to me.”
In the second innings, Karun Nair was the star with his 134, but Binny’s 72 from 144 was equally significant in how he kept the opponents from eating through the middle-order. Binny’s efforts, however, took the back seat there and were relegated further down after Karnataka’s top order massacred Maharashtra in Pune in the next game. He bowled more there than he had all season, and came away with just one wicket. But against Delhi at the Alur (2) grounds, he was presented with the right platform to express himself thoroughly, and he did so with style and presence.
Coming out to bat with Mayank Agarwal running riot, Binny knew that he had to play second fiddle till the end of the opening day’s play and he played that role to perfection, putting his strong shoulders to use only when the ball was short and wide.
From the little seen on the opening day, where he scored 14 runs, it was clear that he was getting right behind the ball and looking to play straight. The next day gave everyone at the venue a real sight of what he had been working on during the off-season. He got into position early and played as straight as possible without chasing many outside the off stump unless the length was short enough. He played inside himself but middled nearly every stroke, and for a change, he wasn’t looking to muscle them out of the ground. But the real mark of his form was in the way he transferred his weight to the back foot and drove through cover. He didn’t pick up as many runs from the shot as he deserved to, but it gave him the confidence to put away loose deliveries without doubting shot selection.
“I think just the way I batted today was something I wanted to do for a long time,” said Binny after the second day’s play. “For the last couple of seasons, I have held back and not played the way I should be playing. It’s about thinking positive and thinking freely when you bat. Yes, you have to respect opponents, but I have a theory where I need to bat 20 minutes and if I can get through that I look to play my own game which is to be positive. As I spoke at the start of the season, I want to go out and bat and be relaxed when I come out to bat. And so far this season I have done exactly that.
“I spent a good month before I came into the Ranji Trophy trying to figure out why I was getting out leg before a lot last year. And I’ve worked hard with a few changes that have paid off, especially playing straight in the first 20 minutes, not trying to flick through midwicket. Even if there is a gap there, I look to play through mid-on. Once I get through those twenty minutes, everything starts to fall in place and my footwork starts to move much better into the innings.”
Oh, and his feet moved on Friday. He took control of proceedings once Agarwal went back to the dressing room and held sway for a large portion of the day with his effortless batting. It was a far cry from his scratchy swing-and-miss style of the past, and it was certainly more refreshing that he ended up with a century. This 118, one of only ten first-class centuries in a long domestic career, was a testament to his change in mindset this season.
“I would rate it (this innings) in the top three, for sure. It’s been positive, the ball was in my area and I was going for it. I didn’t worry too much about what was happening. I think it’s how I think the previous night that makes me bat the way I bat in the morning. I wake up being positive and not worrying about failures and just worrying about watching the ball and hitting it,” he revealed.
“The way I batted here and the way I batted against Hyderabad was a little different. There I had to put my head down. I was batting with Karun (Nair) and we were four down when I went in, so my approach was a little different. But it’s about thinking freely and being positive. I don’t want to worry too much, thinking what if I make a mistake, will I be in, will I be out, or if will I get to the 1,000 runs? Thousand runs was just a goal I set. I may not reach it or I may go above it, but it’s a process of getting there that’s important to me.”
And Binny could not have picked a better side for the motivation to achieve this goal. Among his state mates, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey and Karun Nair are all in the national side’s scheme of things, and with Mayank Agarwal scoring the way he has in the past couple of games, Binny needn’t look far for something to wake up for and work towards.
“It’s always about playing catch-up with someone (in this team). The more we as batsmen in the Karnataka set-up also try and compete with how many runs we can get this season. Everyone’s trying to get the man they can and try and jump on someone’s back,” he offered.
On Saturday, he came up with a couple of crucial wickets to give Karnataka breakthroughs when they were most in need of them. With his bowling, as his batting, he did exactly what was needed of him. Nothing flashy, just wicket-to-wicket stuff, waiting on the batsman to commit an error.
His ability to deliver with both bat and ball make him invaluable to Karnataka, though that doesn’t necessarily mean the same for the national side. Although it’s a long shot, that could change this season. After all, you can’t keep a dreamer from dreaming.