Abhinav Manohar: A Cindrella story at footwear shop

November 16, 2021 turned out to be a turning point in Abhinav Manohar Sadarangani’s career. Making his debut for Karnataka, the right-hand batsman smoked a 49-ball 70 – including two fours and six sixes – against Saurashtra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament.

Abhinav’s childhood coach Irfan Sait feels that knock changed the youngster’s life.

“I started receiving endless calls from several IPL teams, enquiring about him, asking for his batting videos. There were questions such as how he is built and how big a six he can hit. Is he a middle-order batsman or a top-order one,” recalls Irfan.

Karnataka lost the Syed Mushtaq Ali final, courtesy a last-ball six by Tamil Nadu’s Shahrukh Khan, who was picked by Punjab Kings for a whopping Rs 9 crore in Saturday’s auction. Manohar left his mark on the tournament with 162 runs in four innings at a strike rate of 150. His performance was rewarded when he was called for selection trials of at least half a dozen franchises.

The right-hand batsman was bought by Gujarat Titans for a ‘mic-drop’ deal of Rs 2.6 crore, 13 times more than his base price. Kolkata Knight Riders and Delhi Capitals started the bidding. The contest became fiercer, with Gujarat Titans entering the fray when it crossed Rs 1 crore mark. Delhi Capitals eventually opted out, and Gujarat pipped Kolkata to sign the rookie.

Irfan is not surprised that his ward has got such an eye-catching deal. “Those who follow the Karnataka Premier League will tell you how good a batsman and fielder he is. This is a new franchise, and I hope he gets a handful of matches to showcase his six-hitting ability.”

Irfan vividly remembers a six-year-old kid Manohar coming to his academy 20 years ago. The kid who was initially scared to face the ball is now known as a hard-hitting batsman.

“He was never into cricket. He was scared of facing the bowlers when he first came to my academy. His father (Manohar Sadarangani) and I are very good friends. They used to have a footwear shop, and I was running a clothing shop on Commercial Street in Bengaluru. His father asked me once to enrol him in my academy. I was a bit reluctant because he was never interested in cricket. I said I will give it a shot,” says Irfan.

Manohar and his first cousin Sharanya Sadarangani started playing cricket at the academy. Slowly, Abhinav started to take interest, but the passion was lacking.

“It became a routine for him. After school, his father would drop him off, and then pick him up in the evening. There was nothing special back then,” says the 60-year-old coach.

It all changed in 2006. “Our academy played a practice match against the Hyderabad state U-14 team. A ball hit him (Manohar) in the forehead (the scar is still there), he was bleeding. We took him to the hospital; he got a couple of stitches. Deep down in my heart, I was sure he was never coming back. The next day, he was there, and scored a brilliant century. If you ask me, that was the turning point in his cricketing career,” says Irfan.

Manohar’s sister Sharanya went to England after playing age-group cricket for Karnataka and currently turns out for the German national women’s cricket team. However, Abhinav decided to stay; he has been a consistent performer through the age groups. He faced financial duress when his father had to close his footwear shop, and then a couple of more businesses due to financial loss.

“They went through really tough times. For a teenager, it wasn’t easy to endure. However, all of his aggression was reflected in his batting. He started training three times a day. Suddenly a kid, for whom cricket was just a hobby, took it as a passion,” narrates Irfan.

Manohar, a consistent performer at the junior level, had failed to make it to Karnataka’s side, which has the likes of KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair and Manish Pandey.

“He has scored runs in U-14, U-16, U-19 and U-23 levels, but was never able to break into Karnataka senior team. It was not his fault; you look at Karnataka’s batting line-up, it is stacked. But I am glad that when he got the opportunity, he grabbed it with both hands,” says the coach.

“He was among the top five run-getters in the state league. Within a month, he had made his Karnataka senior team debut, and now this IPL contract. What else can a coach ask for!” he says.

“Today was an off day in our academy; we were glued to the TV for the auction. The day was not wasted at all.”

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