One day, during a pre-season Ranji Trophy training session at the MCA’s indoor academy at the Bandra-Kurla Complex, Dhawal Kulkarni told himself that he needed to increase his pace to get back into national reckoning.
“Before the season began I told myself that I needed to increase my pace. Last season my pace had dipped a bit. At the same time I wanted my length to be accurate. Pace is of no use until you get your direction right,” he says.
Kulkarni’s bowling — which features neither express pace nor extravagant movement — can always be relied upon for direction. But his career seemed to be losing a bit of that quantity. For the last two years, Kulkarni’s name had been missing from the India squad or even its fringes, with with selectors picking a host of other young pacers for the A team. Kulkarni, who had been part of the Test squad after finishing as the highest wicket-taker in the 2008-09 Ranji season, was confused, and a little frustrated.
“It is frustrating and disappointing, especially when you are picked for India after a successful season and then slowly land in a place where nobody notices you anymore,” Kulkarni says.
In the early part of the season, Kulkarni’s form hadn’t been spectacular, with his 16 wickets in the league and quarterfinal stages coming at an average of 37.38. But the seamer had played a major role in Mumbai’s previous Ranji Trophy triumph in 2009-10, with five wickets and a crucial second-innings 87 in the final against Karnataka. This time too, as Mumbai claimed their 40th title, Kulkarni proved himself a big-game player, with five for 33 in the semi-final against Services and a nine-wicket match haul in the final against Saurashtra.
“It is always important to stand up during the big moments,” he says. “This performance has certainly boosted my confidence. I’m happy with the way I’ve bowled and that my wickets came in a winning cause. I’m at a very important stage of my career, I feel.”
At the end of the match, Kulkarni received words of praise from Sachin Tendulkar. Mumbai skipper Ajit Agarkar also hailed Kulkarni’s efforts. “He’s been our stand-out performer for four or five seasons now,” Agarkar said. “His performance has been exceptional.”
Having achieved their 40th Ranji win, Mumbai have reached a special milestone. Kulkarni, however, has many more personal goals to achieve.