“I have been bowling better this year than I did in the years before this. I have increased my pace too,” said Abhimanyu Mithun. © AFP

“I have been bowling better this year than I did in the years before this. I have increased my pace too,” said Abhimanyu Mithun. © AFP

Watching Abhimanyu Mithun celebrate a wicket is far more entertaining than watching him orchestrate the batsman’s downfall. His post-wicket routine is usually of both hands facing skywards and head thrown back in relief, but there are times when he gets off the ground and pumps his right arm while the legs do the scissor kick. That sight is as scary as it is delightful.

It really is amazing that he can get that high off the ground despite heavy chunks of muscle hanging on his six-foot-two frame. On Sunday (November 12), in Karnataka’s Ranji Trophy 2017-18 fifth-round clash against Delhi, he couldn’t quite take the aerial route after making Kulwant Khejruliya his fifth victim of the innings. He was setting up to add some pizazz to the moment with the leap, but before he knew it, he was thronged by his team-mates, waiting for the chance to tousle the protagonist’s hair.

R Vinay Kumar kept away from the new ritual. Instead, the Karnataka captain waited his turn and then embraced his new-ball partner almost as if to say “welcome back”.

This fast-bowling alliance goes back to when Mithun made his debut during the 2009-2010 season. In his debut game, Mithun, already a muscular 20-year-old, picked up 11 wickets in Karnataka’s 185-run over Uttar Pradesh in Meerut. Vinay had three. But, by the end of the season, Vinay, who had made his debut in 2004, had 46 wickets and Mithun had 47.

“Picking up five wickets in back-to-back games is an amazing achievement. If he (Mithun) keeps bowling like this, he will make it back to the Indian side. It looks like he’s back to bowling like how he used to when he joined us.” – Vinay

Vinay was spoken of as someone on the threshold of greater things. Mithun was being referred to as a future prospect. Mithun came so highly recommended that the national side couldn’t help but try him out, handing him a debut in February 2010. Four Tests (he made his debut in July the same year) with nine wickets and five One-Day Internationals with three scalps was all he could manage. Mithun was fast for domestic cricket but not fast enough for the big stage. The bigger issue was that he wasn’t consistent. At the domestic level, he could get away bowling bad balls as long as he squeezed out the wickets, but at the international level, that wasn’t going to cut it.

Vinay, on the other hand, was reliant on only his smarts to make it in the big league. Vinay, who made his international debut a couple of months after Mithun, did play 31 ODIs with 38 wickets and also a Test, but hasn’t been in the reckoning since 2013. On the domestic circuit, though, he has been a great force. He has 432 wickets in 119 games at an average of 23.39 and a strike-rate of 49. Add Mithun’s 266 first-class wickets from 83 games to that, and you’ll get an idea of why Karnataka are so reliant on the two of them.

These numbers, meanwhile, don’t account for all the matches Mithun has missed due to injuries and the seasons he went without eye-catching performances, nor do they keep a tab on Vinay’s failures along the way. But, during Karnataka’s back-to-back Ranji Trophy title runs between 2013 and 2015, Vinay and Mithun combined for 145 wickets with Mithun alone picked up 80.

Coming into the 2017-18 season, it seemed like Vinay was not going to find that partner to sing a pace duet with. After all, Mithun had struggled with injury in the previous two seasons and had picked up only 17 wickets. Fears have been allayed, for the moment at least, as the two have reunited. Finally, Mithun’s bowling it at full-tilt without paying attention to what could go wrong mid-stride, and Vinay’s doing what Vinay does: Pick up wickets in bulk.

“Picking up five wickets in back-to-back games is an amazing achievement. If he keeps bowling like this, he will make it back to the Indian side,” said a visibly proud Vinay, referring to the five he bagged against Maharashtra in the previous game and the latest haul. “It looks like he’s back to bowling like how he used to when he joined us.”

On the domestic circuit, R Vinay Kumar has 432 wickets in 119 games at an average of 23.39 and a strike-rate of 49. © AFP

On the domestic circuit, R Vinay Kumar has 432 wickets in 119 games at an average of 23.39 and a strike-rate of 49. © AFP

When asked to elaborate, Vinay said, “He is making the batsmen play more. It is important for an inswing bowler to make the batsman play and from there even if the ball straightens, there are more chances for him to get wickets. He is more consistent and mature now. Overall, he has grown as a cricketer and it is good for the team.”

That it surely is. With Mithun finding his rhythm and Vinay shepherding him along the way, Karnataka have picked up 23 points to lead the Group A table after three wins – two with bonus points – and a draw with the innings lead. Their current position isn’t too different from where they were last season, but they faltered in the quarterfinals. The difference is that last season, they didn’t have someone like Mithun to go to.

S Arvind has been fantastic for Karnataka over the years too, including last season, picking up 30 wickets in seven games with Vinay getting 29. But Arvind isn’t the type to electrify with his intensity, and he hasn’t been available this season. Several other pacemen such as Ronit More, HS Sharath, David Mathias and SL Akshay have tried to find a regular spot in the side, but for some reason or the other, haven’t been able to stick around long enough to provide Vinay with the right concoction.

“At the end of the day, you bowl only 18 to 20 overs in a day so you make the effort to bowl quick. You also need to stay sharp and ready for when the captain needs you there. You need to bowl a good spell when the entire team is believing in me.” – Mithun

Which could explain Vinay’s reaction on Sunday. He and Mithun have picked up 14 wickets apiece this season from four games with the skipper coming away with one five-for to his 28-year-old mate’s two.

“I have been bowling better this year than I did in the years before this. I have increased my pace too,” said Mithun. “Last year things didn’t go well for me. So many things didn’t go our way and I was really upset about that.

“I have been bowling well the last few months and I am really confident that I can make it back to the Indian team. Two more good games and I can make it to the side is what I think. Skill-wise, I worked on my bowling action and I started working on my body too. I started doing yoga and it’s helping me a lot.”

To understand what Mithun’s trying to say, one only needed to be at the Alur ground during the post-lunch session on Saturday and the first session on Sunday. The fire with which he ran in was reminiscent of his younger self.

“On these wickets, I need to push myself,” said Mithun of the flat deck on offer. “If I go thinking that I won’t get wickets and that it won’t make a difference, then there’s no point. I need to run in hard and I need to keep that effort. At the end of the day, you bowl only 18 to 20 overs in a day so you make the effort to bowl quick. You also need to stay sharp and ready for when the captain needs you there. You need to bowl a good spell when the entire team is believing in me.”

Mithun’s still young and has plenty of cricket left in him. Vinay doesn’t have as much time. But the common factor is that both are working towards their India return and whether that dream is realised or not, Karnataka cricket will benefit.