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Rohan Kunnummal and life in the fast lane

Last updated on 15 Aug 2023 | 09:43 AM
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Rohan Kunnummal and life in the fast lane

In a exclusive, the Kerala opener talked about his rapid rise, the ‘god-like’ presence of Sanju Samson, and Kerala’s changing cricketing scene

“Cricket is in your blood.”

Usually, the phrase describes someone from a cricketing legacy or a cricket nut who can always babble about the sport. But a 25-year-old Rohan Kunnummal falls in neither category and still has a story that perfectly fits the definition.  

Rohan’s cricketing journey is very close to the premise of the 2014 Malayalam blockbuster, 1983. If Nivin Pauly was the character, Rameshan, in the movie, Rohan’s dad - Sushil Kumar - lived that in real life. Both of them were cricket crazy, but as the story narrated itself, neither got an opportunity to play the sport at the highest level. 

In Koyilandy, a small Taluk in the Kozhikode district started the tale of the talented Kerala opener. Sushil lived his dream vicariously through the journey of his son - Rohan - who is one of the cricketers involved in transforming the sport in the state. 

When Rohan was born, his dad Sushil had already envisioned a career for the young kid in front of him, his goal was always to make him a cricketer, and the journey began at the age of nine, involving numerous throwdowns, preparation of turfs, and more importantly, teaching the art of the sport. 

“Actually, all the credit for me being a cricketer should belong to him (Sushil). His dream was always to be a cricketer, but he couldn’t, so even before I was born, they had already decided that I would be a cricketer. From the age of nine, he is my coach, still feeds me balls in the nets at home, and is my everything,” Rohan told in an exclusive chat with a lump in his throat.

“Younger days, there was a plot in front of our house, but after the monsoon arrived, we couldn’t practise there. So, we shifted to a verandah in our old house and shifted my practice there. We put one side net and one side wall,” he explains the process of his practice during his younger days. 

“With the help of taped tennis ball, my dad threw me underarm, and I used to practise. At the age of ten, I played with leather ball, and most of the practice I did back then was with a tennis ball.”

The story doesn’t end there, Rohan, when he was just around 14, also had the opportunity to play club cricket alongside his dad, who himself was a well-known off-spinner on the cricketing circuits in and around the district. But the transformation that the youngster has seen over the years, graduating from every age-group division in Kerala cricket, is a story in itself, starting with Railview Club before switching to Sussex Cricket Academy in Kozhikode.

Rohan is quintessentially a modern-day cricketer who has watched and learnt much of his trade from Virender Sehwag, with a daredevilry attached to his batting. For the 25-year-old, cricket is a way of expression, so he hasn’t paid much attention to the manual of ‘don’t play aerial shots’. 

“In my younger age, I have been scolded a lot of times for playing aerially, they have always advised me to play the ball on the ground. But when I play taku-taku (slow), I am so restricted. After that, I just stopped caring about that advice and played my natural game. I only focused on my game and backing myself,” he added.

His attacking prowess is such that a large part of the cricketing discourse in the state has already started tagging him as ‘Kerala Sehwag’, and Rohan joked that the tag will always belong to his senior, Vishnu Vinod. 

“There should be no comparison between me and Virender Sehwag, they are all legends. Actually, there is another player - Vishnu Vinod - he is the original Sehwag from Kerala. I’m just a junior to that tag.”

Just like his batting, Rohan has had quite a pacy start on the fast lane, with his career taking off like a rocket over the last three years. In that time frame, the dashing right-hander scored 972 runs, including four 50s and four 100s, including a sequence of 107, 129, 106* and 75 that made his name in bold letters in red-ball cricket, even going on to represent India 'A' in Bangladesh. 

All of this while still striking at 81.81 on some of the toughest wickets in the country. Even at the List-A level, the 25-year-old from Kozhikode went past the 1000-run mark, averaging 57.11 and striking at 107.53 - the best numbers for anyone with a minimum of 1000 runs from the state. 

“It feels so great; I haven’t expected this much to happen over the last two years. Thank god, my hard work is paying off, and I’m really happy with the progress,” uttered a rather humble Rohan. 

“I usually don’t care about the numbers, I just want to perform every match and win the game. I don’t go behind records, I just don’t care about it.” 


Cricket isn’t the favourite sport in the state, in fact, Kerala didn’t produce a lot of top-quality cricketers until the dawn of the century when the likes of Sreesanth, Tinu Yohannan, Sanju Samson all emerged out of the shadows to represent the country. 

Over the past few years, the narrative has completely seen a drastic shift because of the representation of how the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) have facilitated the growth of some serious talents in the state. And in the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season, they proved why. 

Kerala not only reached the quarter-final stage of the competition but also went on to beat Gujarat, making their first appearance in the tournament's semi-final stage. 

“Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) is doing really well, they are supporting us to the tilt, they are giving us camp, everything that we require for performing on the ground, the association is taking care of that. For the last five years, Kerala cricket is doing very well, we are qualifying for almost every other knock-out stage in white-ball tournaments.

“We have seen growth over the last four-five years, our main aim is to win a title this year. A new batch is cropping up, all the U-19 cricketers are graduating, and senior players such as Sachin Baby, Sanju (Samson) bhai and Jalaj (Saxena) bhai are still there. Their experience is quite valuable to us,” he had to add. 

The game has grown so much so in the state that 28-year-old Samson has become a god-like figure in the state, with several fan clubs supporting him across social media platforms. It doesn’t end there, with Samson’s presence making a huge difference in the Kerala dressing room. 

Rohan, who has shades of Samson’s batting aggression, called the latter a ‘god-like figure’ and insisted that his bold-decision making is rare. That is visible in how much the state has grown cricketing-wise, with dominant displays across formats in the country. 

“Sanju (Samson) chetta is a god-like figure for us. He makes bold decisions and does whatever he feels is right, and that’s a rare quality. As a player and a human, that’s a really good quality. He supports the youngsters a lot, we can call him anytime, and he responds. It is a gift for us that we can approach him anytime,” Rohan praised Samson. 

“He (Samson) has always backed me, he said to me that you look different from the crowd, just back your own game, and don’t worry. Yes, definitely, Sanju chetta, he was the only one at that time who was playing an aggressive brand of cricket. He was the one who brought the change, and now we all are following that.” 


Rohan recalls a particular moment during the 2022 edition of the Duleep Trophy, where he made his South Zone debut. Whilst his form was certainly good, the pressure of facing some quality opposition made him nervous, but then a chat with his opening partner, and a good mentor of his, Mayank Agarwal, changed everything for the right-hander. 

“After that Ranji Trophy, there was a huge gap before the Duleep Trophy, so I was in good shape and flow. I never expected to have such a good Duleep Trophy, but I was under immense pressure,” he recalls.  

“Especially in the clash against North Zone, I could feel the pressure, Mayank helped me a lot, especially during the first 30 runs, when he constantly talked to me from the other end. Just be there and play one ball at a time; after the first 30 runs, I felt I belonged here,” he added. 

Eventually, Rohan went on to put up scores of 143 and 77 against a bowling unit that Navdeep Saini and Siddarth Kaul led. Just a few days later, he repeated his batting masterclass with a 93 in the second innings against a strong West Zone unit, although in a losing cause. 

“There is always that feeling of fear when everything is happening so quickly, but we just have to stick to the process and keep doing our thing. We should do what we can, focus on the process, and stick to the present,” he insisted.

That journey with Mayank blossomed into a fruitful partnership in the recently concluded Deodhar Trophy, with the pair scoring 652 runs in the competition, miles ahead of the other teams in the competition. In the final, Rohan’s blazing 107 helped South Zone lift their second trophy of the season. 

“I have learnt so much from Mayank (Agarwal) bhai. His attitude on the ground and in the field is so good. All the 50-overs, he was constantly pushing the players, supporting everyone and his energy levels were quite high. So amazing to see, and it is a good thing to learn," Rohan and his endless praise for Mayank. 

"He knows his game, and he is just backing his game. He was constantly supporting me, he keeps telling me to keep calm and play till a particular over."

Whilst playing with crowd support comes as a rarity in domestic cricket, the 25-year-old was blessed with the support that South Zone got during the final of the Deodhar Trophy in Puducherry. It was almost like a carnival, with the crowd instantly falling in love with the dashing Kerala batter, chanting ‘Rohan, Rohan, Rohan,’ almost signalling his arrival at the biggest stage. 

“Especially in the final, there was a crowd, it was so nice to listen to all the ‘Rohan, Rohan’ chants, and I had goosebumps. The crowd feels nice, but we all play for ourselves, not for the crowd. So whatever the game demands, we have to do.”

Funnily enough, Rohan was confused about how to celebrate his ton before the tournament. Even after landing in Puducherry, he wasn’t sure about how he would proceed before watching several YouTube clips of famous celebrations. Guess where that endless scrolling ended up in? 

Virat Kohli’s famous ‘Let the bat talk’ celebration. 

“On the first day, I played Deodhar Trophy, I planned to celebrate in some fashion. I was watching videos on YouTube, trying to copy some style. I found Virat Kohli’s celebration and attitude on the field are very good. So, I thought if I get a century in the tournament, I will copy his celebration,” Rohan recalls. 

“I look up to Virat Kohli, but to be honest, my favourite is Suresh Raina. I love his energy on the field, and he’s a game-changer. I also aspire to be like that.”

Rohan’s aspirations aren’t too different from every budding cricketer in the country. All that he dreams of is winning a World Cup for India, as simple as that sounds. And he is taking massive strides in getting closer to his dream with a trial at the Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise, Delhi Capitals. 

All that Rohan believes is in his hard work, and he attests by the saying, "Ningal enthu chiythalum daivam moonniratti thirichu kodukum" (Whatever you do, god will give you three times in return). 

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