Spirit to overcome sets apart Kerala’s Kunnummal


Almost every single time South Zone’s Rohan Kunnummal played a shot in the Deodhar Trophy final against East Zone, there was a touch of swagger. On enough occasions, the follow through of his bat ended up somewhere around head high or just behind his helmet. When the bowlers pitched it fuller, he cracked lofts and flicks. When they banged it in shorter, out come the debonair square cuts. More importantly, after failing to convert a few starts in the tournament, he had cracked a thrill-a-minute hundred.

“It was really special to contribute, especially in the final,” Kunnummal told RevSportz. “I was in good rhythm. I was getting starts. My intention was if I get a good start, then I need to make it big. Thank god, everything worked well and I got a good score.”

In many ways, the Kerala opener’s batting is a microcosm of his cricketing journey so far. The 25-year-old has faced hurdles and tackled them on the front foot. Kunnummal, who averages over 50 in List A and first-class cricket, took up the game at a tender age. He and his father had one dream, and that was Kunnummal playing cricket at higher echelons. Even inclement weather couldn’t stop the duo from pursuing their dream. He was rejected at a junior selection camp, but that made him work harder.

“It was raining and we were practising at that time, myself and my dad. Even amid the rain, we didn’t stop. When I was 10, I went for under-14 (trials). At that time, I wasn’t good enough to play at that level. Initially, I attended a summer coaching camp in Calicut, after that I joined Sussex Cricket Academy, where I am until now.”

For Kunnummal, practice soon became a game of repetition, with the father-son duo using up every available space. On occasions, a shot or two ended up breaking a few household items but it didn’t matter. The aim was to improve by percentages and fractions. “I’m here because of my father. When I am at home, we still practise with tennis balls on the veranda. He gives me throwdowns. I think 70 per cent of all the practice I have done has been with dad. I used to break tube lights. Eventually, we put covers on them. Father set up a net in the backyard with a concrete wicket and all that.”

The hard work was worth it as Kunnummal made his way through the under-19 ranks and earned his first-class debut in January 2020. However, alongside improving his batting skills, he still had to upgrade his fitness. Making matters worse, he suffered an injury. But for Kunnummal, a stumbling block has always been another stepping stone to success. It was time to work on fitness.

“Before Covid-19, I tore a ligament in my ankle. I became weak and my strength came down. Actually, I am a lean guy. I tried to improve my fitness. Skill-wise I was confident. If you want to perform consistently, fitness is very important. I contacted Vyshak Krishna, one of my best friends. He was starting his training career. He said ‘I will look after it, don’t worry.’ During the Covid time, I worked hard, gained around 6-7 kgs. 

“Worked on strength and conditioning. We controlled the diet. For the past few months, I haven’t eaten any sugar items, and we have added proteins to the diet. It helped a lot. Without fitness, it is hard to survive.”

With skills supplemented by improved fitness, runs were bound to come. Kunnummal aggregated 417 at an average of 139 during the 2021-22 first-class season. In Vijay Hazare too, he accrued 264 runs at 44. There was one knock in particular that would perhaps echo in his mind for a long time.

In the Gujarat versus Kerala Ranji Trophy game, Kunnummal fluffed a chance and gave Umang Kumar a reprieve in the second innings. Consequently, the pair of Karan Patel and Umang helped Gujarat post a fighting total of 264, leaving Kerala a tricky target of 214. Kunnummal didn’t just steer Kerala to a famous win but did it in style. On the back of Kunnummal’s enterprising  hundred, his side overhauled the target in a mere 35.4 overs.

“That was the most important catch. At that time, if we got that wicket, the match would have been over, because others were like tail-enders. I dropped the guy. I was dejected and thought I have lost the match for the team. But when we went out to bat in the afternoon, I said to myself, ‘I want to win the match for the team’. I just backed my instincts.”

Although there was a bit of dip in form in the longest format last season, he still aggregated 547 at a tad over 40. Kunnummal was also laid low by constant bouts of fever. There was something else bothering him too. Kunnummal was expected to be picked in the IPL auction but he went unsold. “It was disappointing. But sometimes you have to accept that some things are not in our hands. After realising that, I started focusing on how I can become a better cricketer. I started working on my fitness again, my mindset.”

Simply put, for the quiet and unassuming Kunnummal, cricket is a game of repetition. And every setback is another bump on the tough road to success.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *