Rohan Kunnummal scored 414 runs from 7 innings at an average of 103.50 for Kerala in Vijay Hazare Trophy (VHT) 2022-23 and 825 runs from 7 matches in First-Class cricket.
Perhaps till now, Sanju Samson was the first and only big name among the current players who come to mind while talking about Kerala cricket, but it won’t be too long before the whole world focus their attention towards the new sensation from the southern state - Rohan Susil Kunnummal – especially, if he could keep up his phenomenal run in the longest format of the game.
Even though he didn’t get a chance to show his calibre before the world when he was picked for the India A side to play in the two unofficial Test matches against Bangladesh A, Kunnummal shared some valuable time in the dressing room with his respected ‘Cheteshwar Pujara Sir.’
A crazy start in the making of a future star
In the recently concluded Vijay Hazare Trophy (VHT) 2022-23, Kunnummal was in excellent touch for Kerala, notching up 414 runs in just seven innings at an average of 103.50 and strike rate of 131.84 with one fifty and couple of centuries. His returns speak loud on what the three-dimensional 24-year-old batter from Palakkad could become in the future.
Kunnummal had a decent Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) 2022-23 with 201 runs in eight innings at a strike rate of 134 with one fifty-plus score. But it is his first-class record which consists of 825 runs in just 11 innings spread across 7 games at an average of 82.50 along with an aggressive strike rate of 82.41, thanks to four centuries and four half-centuries, is nothing short of remarkable.
After featuring in a solitary first-class game in February this year, the Kerala opener contributed immensely for South Zone with his 143 and 77 against North Zone in the Duleep Trophy 2022-23 semi-final. Kunnummal and Madhya Pradesh’s Aditya Shrivastava are the only ones to earn six 50-plus scores in their first seven innings.
“For me, it’s like a fairy tale, nothing less,” Kunnummal expressed to ESPNcricinfo when he was asked about his run of form. “There has been a lot of hard work behind the scenes but never did I dream about hitting four centuries in six innings, and I am so grateful for whatever is happening.”
The valuable support from a cricket crazy father
The 24-year-old who was born in Palakkad and brought up in Kozhikode, was encouraged to try his hand in cricket at the age of just nine by his father, Susil who was an off-spinner during his University days. The ardent follower of the game was a passionate cricketer in his time who couldn’t enhance his game beyond the playing eleven of the Kerala Agricultural University team.
The decision to pursue cricket came soon after a nine-year-old Rohan Kunnummal went unnoticed in a district selection camp. After that, former Kerala captain Sunil Oasis after a long discussion with Susil advised him to back the kid for a cricketing career as Rohan began by playing for the Railview Club after being trained by Santosh Kumar at Sussex Cricket Academy in Kozhikode.
Rohan climbed up through the ranks rapidly as after around six years, he was fast-tracked by the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) directly into the under-25 state category. He was asked to play league cricket in Kochi for the Mattancherry Youngsters Cricket Association where the quality of the bowlers he faced was far better than the previous ones he had encountered.
The then 18-year-old had a brief presence in the India U-19 team before he was halted for a couple of seasons. “He had always remained confident about his game and I feel that’s where he had an edge over his peers,” Susil revealed.
Growing mature during the Covid-19 lockdown
The entire world cricketing cricket including the domestic circuit came to a standstill during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21, when Rohan charted his way to a dramatic turnaround while being locked up at home.
The issue with Rohan was that there was an impression among cricketers in the Kerala circle that he had a weak physique. KCA entrusted its strength and conditioning coach, Vysakh Krishna to improve Rohan’s fitness and that turned out to be a huge blessing in Rohan’s life.
“His hands used to become weak and that affected his timing but after his transformation, his 60-70 run knocks began to cross the 100-run mark,” Susil described. “We only realised the importance of such fitness levels after seeing the results.”
When Rohan used to practice in his backyard, he was always suggested to play as if there were 11 players of the other team on the field at certain positions which meant that he had to play according to the field. Probably, that was the reason why he has made it a habit from a young age to find gaps more frequently than most of the players around him.
“I don’t believe that much in technique; it’s just a matter of hitting the ball, that’s it,” Rohan Kunnummal shared his thought process when he remains in the middle of the 22-yards. “However, you play, you just want to middle that ball; don’t play the bowler; just play the ball. That’s how I function.”
Kerala coach Tinu Yohannan is confident that Rohan would have a long way ahead and has all the skills to get a spot in the national side. He has observed that his aggressive mindset always makes him a match-winner while his brilliant hand-eye coordination is something that’s so rare these days.
The future ahead for Rohan Kunnummal
In the recently concluded game for Kerala against Jharkhand in their very first game of Ranji Trophy 2022-23, Rohan scored an elegant 50 in just 71 balls with the help of five boundaries and one solitary six during the first innings before being dismissed cheaply for just 6 in the second innings. It won’t be long that he will come under the scanner of the national selectors when India look for new Test openers in the future.
But one thing Kunnummal has to be very careful about is that he has to carry the rich vein of form in all the upcoming seasons, otherwise, it will be tough to get into the Indian side which has its hands full with so many contenders for every spot. So, Kunnummal has to keep on scoring truckloads of runs, season after season.
On the back of a year to remember, Kunnummal will now keep his eyes on the upcoming Indian Premier League (IPL) mini-auction where he could end up snatching a deal. Although, he has already had a bit of a taste of it, having trialled with Chennai Super Kings (CSK) and Mumbai Indians (MI) last year. If that chance comes, Kunnummal is confident of making it count but for now, his focus is only on the gaps in the field.
Rohan Kunnummal will now take field when Kerala will take on Rajasthan in their second Ranji game of this season on December 20 at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.