Atharva Ankolekar’s ‘BEST’ gift to mother as India beat Bangladesh in U19 Asia Cup
“I can’t pinpoint who he considers his idol. All I know is he’s been doing everything for his father.” For Vaidehi Ankolekar, mother of Atharva Ankolekar who captured five wickets to bowl India to the U-19 Asia Cup triumph on Saturday, the words conveyed the single-minded focus that has been driving her 18-year-old son.
India defeated Bangladesh by five runs in an exciting final in Colombo on Saturday. India were 106 all out in 32.4 overs and Bangladesh were dismissed for 101 in 33 overs. Ankolekar, a left-arm spinner, snapped up the last two wickets after Bangladesh were left to get just six runs.
It was a proud moment for Vaidehi, who took a bus conductor’s job with BEST (Mumbai bus service) to raise her two children after her husband died nine years ago. Ankolekar was around 10 years old. But his father too was a cricketer and had played in domestic tournaments like the Kanga League and the youngster didn’t need much goading to take up the sport seriously. “He was around two-and-a-half years old when he first picked up a bat. His father was so happy. By the time he was in third standard, he had started going to coaching camps. Less than a year later, he joined MIG Cricket Club,” said Vaidehi, a conductor attached to the Marol depot who also takes tuitions to support her family.
It has been a long journey since then. But the hard work came to fruition at the R Premadasa Stadium on Saturday. Defending the paltry total against Bangladesh was never going to be easy. But after left-arm pacer Akash Singh had skittled the top-order with three early wickets, Ankolekar ran riot, returning figures of 5/28.
It wasn’t a fluke, not for someone who can count Sachin Tendulkar among his victims. It was during a training session at the Mumbai Cricket Association campus in 2010 that young Ankolekar had foxed the batting great. Tendulkar was so impressed he gifted the boy a pair of autographed gloves.
Prashant Shetty, Ankolekar’s coach at the MIG Academy, heaped praise on the cricketer who finished the Asia Cup as the highest wicket-taker with 12 scalps. “He is a street-smart cricketer and knows how to perform. He has been leading Mumbai in age-group teams and is respected for his leadership qualities,” he said. “It is his biggest performance so far. When he was 13, we made him play for our club, Parel Sporting. That immensely helped in his development as he was playing with the senior boys. Today’s performance is the result of that experience.”
He lauded Vaidehi. “All credit goes to his mother. She has worked really hard. It was a very tough time for the family when her husband passed away, but she was courageous to take up the conductor’s job. She was not worried how tough the job would be, she just wanted a job to provide for her two kids,” he said.
However, there seems to be a vacuum. “He still doesn’t share half the things with me like he used to with his father. They were very close. He used to place a bat next to his bed every night and they would talk cricket. He still misses him every single day,” Vaidehi added. “It’s tough. Not the 15 hours I need to work every day, but I fail to stay by his side. I’ve never managed to watch a single match he has played.”