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In South Africa, fuller length doesn't work: Mukesh

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India’s Mukesh Kumar (centre) celebrates the wicket of South Africa’s Tony de Zorzi during day 1 of the 2nd Test match at Newlands Cricket Ground on Wednesday in Cape Town

India’s Mukesh Kumar (centre) celebrates the wicket of South Africa’s Tony de Zorzi during day 1 of the 2nd Test match at Newlands Cricket Ground on Wednesday in Cape Town

Cape Town: He should have played ahead of Shardul Thakur and Prasidh Krishna in the Test series opener against South Africa but when Mukesh Kumar finally got his chance at Newlands, the Indian team realised what exactly it missed during the mauling in Centurion.

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While the seasoned duo of Mohammed Siraj (7 wickets) and Jasprit Bumrah (8 wickets) did the bulk of the damage, Mukesh was the ideal third seamer with four wickets in the second Test, which included two top-order dismissals in the second innings.

He was bowling slightly back of length but was still able to move the ball late.

"I think I have been able to fulfil the role assigned by the team management. I am satisfied with my bowling and the best part is that I have worked hard and tried my best," Mukesh told reporters about his performance during India's series-levelling win.

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A smart operator, Mukesh had quickly realised that despite being comparatively lesser in terms of pace generated by the two senior speedsters, he couldn't bowl too full on South African tracks.

"There's a lot of difference between bowling on this kind of tracks compared to Indian pitches," said Mukesh.

He elaborated on his strategy.

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"In India, when you try to bowl fuller length the ball moves in the air, but here, if you try to bowl too full, you get smashed.

"So we decided that we will bowl between 6 to 8 metres in length (back of length). And since there is a lot of bounce on offer you can get wickets." Two days after India lost in Centurion, Mukesh bowled to skipper Rohit Sharma at the nets for an hour.

So what did the skipper tell you? "He always tells us about areas to bowl when we seek feedback in the nets. They would tell us 'If you pitch the ball in this particular length and channel you can trouble us'." Hailing from Bihar's Gopalganj district, Mukesh's late father, who used to drive a cab in Kolkata, wanted him to join the CISF (Central Industrial Security Force) but he failed to clear the physical test before finding his calling in tennis ball circuit in Kolkata.

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Kolkata turned out to be the 'City of Joy' for Mukesh when former Bengal speedster Ranadeb Bose found the then-talented but malnourished young man who was a cut above the rest.

"Ranadeb Bose has immense contribution to my development as a fast bowler. The coaches at NCA and him (Bose) are people I fall back upon if I face any technical issues with my bowling," Mukesh remembered his first coach with respect and fondness.

He is the first international cricketer from Gopalganj, and in that part of the world, he is now a celebrity.

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Kids, and aspiring cricketers, make a beeline to meet him but the best part about being a 30-year-old making his international debut is that his feet remain firmly rooted to the ground.

"Yes, when I go back to Gopalganj youngsters come and speak to me and ask me about their game and seek guidance. I do try and help them as much as I can. I have gifted a few bowling spikes to them," he said, smiling.

Having lived at Eden Gardens' dormitory for a better part of two years of his apprenticeship as part of CAB's Vision2020 programme, nothing came easily to him.

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"Patience and process were two aspects that I always concentrated upon. Also, all tips given by my coaches from formative years have come in handy," he said.

Last year, Mukesh made his Test debut on July 20, ODI debut on July 27, and played his first shortest format game for the national team on August 3.

Nearly five and half months down the line, Mukesh is now 19 international matches old.

How much adjustment is needed? "When you play for the country, you need to adapt and adjust to various formats. If you are playing white ball and need to play Test matches after that, then you also simultaneously need to practice with red ball." 

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