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Hemant Kumar: Master of the mind game

To score a century in your maiden first class innings is a rare enought feat. To score centuries in your first two innings is even more uncommon. Tamil Nadu lefthander Hemant Kumar did just that in the 2000-01 Ranji Trophy season, joining an exclusive club comprising only three other Indians, Nari Contractor, PC Poddar and Sameer Dighe.

Making his debut in the final South Zone league tie against Kerala at Kochi, Hemant collected a measured 101 in the only innings he batted to ease Tamil Nadu into the knockouts. Next, in the pre-quarterfinals at the IIT-Chemplast ground in Chennai, he notched up 121 against a Delhi attack including three and a half former India bowlers in Amit Bhandari, Robin Singh jr, Rahul Sanghvi and Virender Shewag.

Guyana's Joe Solomon is the only batsman in history to boast three tons in his first three knocks. The 21-year-old Hemant almost got there but a rare moment of indiscretion cost him dearly in the second innings against Delhi. Stepping out to the off spinner Virender Shewag, he overbalanced and was stumped for 87. Tamil Nadu's campaign was ended by Baroda in the quarters but Hemant clearly is an outstanding prospect for the future.

He almost missed the bus for India at Under-19 level. The Tamil Nadu selectors didn't think he was good enough to play for the state in the South Zone league of the 1998/99 Cooch Behar Trophy. It was Hemant's last season in the Under-19s, so his chances seemed to have evaporated. Belatedly summoned for the knockouts, Hemant slammed a century in each innings against Punjab in the final to gatecrash his way into the Indian team for two one-dayers against Sri Lanka. It was an early indication of his insatiable appetite for hundreds; as he discerningly points out no one is going to raise an eyebrow even if you score a hundred fifties.

It was still going to be an arduous path into the Tamil Nadu Ranji Trophy team. A preponderance of lefthanders in Sriram, Ramesh, Badani, Sharath and Robin made it a justly difficult proposition. Playing for India Pistons, Hemant made gallons of runs in all the corporate tournaments in the run-up to the 2000-01 season, including the TNCA first division, one of the toughest leagues in the country, and the Moin-ud-Dowlah Gold Cup. Several of the Tamil Nadu top order were away on national duty at various moments during the season but in their absence, other youngsters like S Badrinath and R Sriram were blooded ahead of Hemant. His chance finally came in the last South Zone league tie and from then on the caprices of the selectors could not affect him for he was master of his own destiny.

Hemant's phenomenal control over his mind is the key to his success; he believes it is criminal to get out after playing your eye in. Rather than looking ahead to batting out the day, the secret, he says, is not to look beyond the next ball; and to shut out all extraneous influences as you prepare to face that ball. By the same token Hemant suggests that, despite his fondness for hundreds, he does not go into a game aiming to score one. "There should be nothing on your mind, only then can you concentrate well" he suggests. You won't find Hemant taking too many risks; his first Ranji century occupied 299 deliveries but, backed a wide range of strokes, he can score as quickly as the next man when he chooses. As indeed Hemant showed in the Moin-ud-Dowlah final, where he struck 134 in 127 balls. Timing not power is his forte, he likes to stroke the ball rather than belt the cover off it, and for that reason is comfortable facing the new ball. Currently Hemant bats at No.3 but he is open to the prospect of opening the innings and, given the existing shortage of quality opening batsmen, it is likely that is where his metier lies.

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Hemant Kumar
Hemant Kumar

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