November 16, 2021 proved to be a turning point in Abhinav Manohar Sadarangani’s career. Making his debut for Karnataka, the right-handed batsman hit a 70 from 49 balls, including two fours and six sixes, against Saurashtra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.
Abhinav’s childhood coach, Irfan Sait, feels that the hit changed the young man’s life.
“I started getting endless calls from various IPL teams, asking about him, asking for his hitting videos. There were questions like how he’s built and how big a six he can hit. Is he a middle-order hitter or a high-level hitter?” Irfan recalls.
Karnataka lost the final to Syed Mushtaq Ali, thanks to a last-ball six from Tamil Nadu’s Shahrukh Khan, who was picked up by Punjab Kings for a whopping Rs 9 million in Saturday’s auction. Manohar made his mark on the tournament with 162 runs in four innings with a strike rate of 150. His performance paid off when he was called up for tryouts by at least half a dozen franchises.
The right-handed batsman was bought by Gujarat Titans for a ‘mic-drop’ deal of Rs 2.6 crore, 13 times his base price. Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals started the bidding. The competition became fiercer, with the Gujarat Titans entering the fray as they topped the Rs 1 crore mark. Delhi Capitals ultimately opted out, with Gujarat beating Kolkata to sign the rookie.
Irfan is not surprised that his ward has landed such a flashy deal. “Those who follow the Karnataka Premier League will tell you what a good batsman and fielder he is. This is a new franchise, and I hope he gets a handful of games to show his six-hit ability.”
Irfan vividly remembers Manohar, a six-year-old boy, who came to his academy 20 years ago. The boy who was initially afraid to face the ball is now known as a forceful hitter.
“He never liked cricket. He was scared to face bowlers when he first came to my academy. His father (Manohar Sadarangani) and I are very good friends. They used to have a shoe store and I ran a clothing store on Commercial Street in Bangalore. His father once asked me to enroll him in my academy. He was a bit reluctant because he was never interested in cricket. I said he would give it a try,” says Irfan.
Manohar and his first cousin Sharanya Sadarangani started playing cricket at the academy. Slowly, Abhinav grew interested, but the passion was missing.
“It became a routine for him. After school, his father would drop him off and then pick him up at night. There was nothing special then,” says the 60-year-old technician.
Everything changed in 2006. “Our academy played a practice match against the Hyderabad State U-14 team. A ball hit him (Manohar) in the forehead (he still has the scar), he was bleeding. We took him to the hospital; he received a couple of stitches. Deep in my heart, I was sure that he would never come back. The next day he was there and scored a brilliant century. If you ask me, that was the turning point in his cricket career,” says Irfan.
Manohar’s sister, Sharanya, went to England after playing age group cricket for Karnataka and currently playing for the German women’s national cricket team. However, Abhinav decided to stay; he has been a constant performer through the age groups. He faced financial pressure when his father had to close his shoe store and then a couple of other businesses due to financial losses.
“They went through very difficult times. For a teenager, it was not easy to bear. However, all his aggressiveness was reflected in his hitting. He started training three times a day. Suddenly a boy, for whom cricket was just a hobby, took it up as a passion,” Irfan narrates.
“He has scored runs at U-14, U-16, U-19 and U-23 levels but was never able to break into the Karnataka senior team. It wasn’t his fault; you look at Karnataka’s batting lineup, it’s stacked. But I am glad that when the opportunity came to him he grabbed it with both hands, ”says the coach.
“He was in the top five running backs in the state league. Within a month, he made his debut in Karnataka’s senior team, and now this IPL contract. What more can a coach ask for! he says.
“Today was a bad day at our academy; we were glued to the television for the auction. The day was not wasted at all.”