Kulkarni, a Kallis fan, hopes to make all-round impact | Crickit
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Kulkarni, a Kallis fan, hopes to make all-round impact

By, New Delhi
Jan 18, 2024 11:34 PM IST

He is already garnering eyeballs because he promises to be a precious commodity in Indian cricket.

Long before Arshin Kulkarni started making waves as an opening batter and medium-pacer for the India U-19 set-up, his teammates at cricket grounds in Solapur, Maharashtra, would refer to him as Kallis. Not because Kulkarni was a seam-bowling all-rounder showing glimpses of Jacques Kallis — he switched from bowling leg-spin to medium pace only in 2021 when he began playing for Maharashtra U-19s — but because he was a big fan who had a poster of the South African great adorning his bedroom while growing up.

Kulkarni, 18, met Kallis a couple of days ago(Arshin Kulkarni- X/Twitter) PREMIUM
Kulkarni, 18, met Kallis a couple of days ago(Arshin Kulkarni- X/Twitter)

So when Kulkarni, 18, met Kallis a couple of days ago, he was visibly overwhelmed, touching his feet and savouring an autographed jersey. Kulkarni is in South Africa for the 2024 U-19 World Cup, with defending champions India beginning their campaign against Bangladesh in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

If Kulkarni is already garnering eyeballs, it’s because he promises to be a precious commodity in Indian cricket, which has been long afflicted by the paucity of seam-bowling all-rounders. He was also picked by Lucknow Super Giants at his base price of 20 lakh at last month’s IPL auction. He’s a clean striker of the ball at the top of the order — he smashed 13 sixes while cracking a century in the Maharashtra Premier League last year.

“There is no pressure,” Kulkarni told Sports Tak recently. “I have worked hard for so many years to play the World Cup. My first priority is the World Cup. I want to win the U-19 World Cup before going on to play for India.”

Kulkarni’s initiation to the sport began in Solapur when he was six or seven years old. His parents and elder sister are doctors, but he didn’t have a hard time convincing them about pursuing cricket. “I used to play cricket in school and college. Everyone was fond of cricket in the family,” said Atul Kulkarni, Arshin’s father.

Kulkarni’s cricketing talent was apparent early enough for his coaches in Solapur to convince Atul about moving his son to Pune when he was 13. The rationale was simple — he will have more exposure in Pune and a greater chance of representing the state.

But Atul’s medical practice in Solapur meant that relocating to Pune, 250 kilometres away, wasn’t an option for the entire family.

“Since we have a hospital here, it wasn't possible to shift to Pune. We got him admitted into Cadence Cricket Academy in Pune. He was given permission by his school in Solapur to travel to Pune for 3-4 days in a week. He used to reach for the practice in Pune on Wednesday evening, stay there on Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then come back home on Sunday. His grandmother would accompany him, and they used to stay at a friend’s flat,” Atul said.

It paid dividends almost immediately as Kulkarni began playing for the state at the U-14 level. The transition to U-16 and U-19 took place smoothly, and the U-19 World Cup was the natural next step in his burgeoning career graph.

“Yes, the U-19 World Cup was a goal. He played for Maharashtra at U-14, U-16 and U-19 level. Any U-19 player would obviously like to represent India. He was the highest run-getter in the Vinoo Mankad Trophy (U-19s) in 2022. He also scored a hundred in the final of the Vinoo Mankad Trophy in 2023. He also impressed at the NCA camp for U-19 boys in Bengaluru,” said Kulkarni's proud father.

Kulkarni, who has also trained under former India all-rounder Abhishek Nayar in Mumbai, has already played six T20s for Maharashtra in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The allure of the IPL is also hard to overlook for young cricketers, but Atul is clear that his son’s journey has just begun.

“This is a very brittle age. But he is very sound. This is a new phase for him,” Atul said. “We keep telling him that he has to work hard. His career has just started. This is only the beginning, and he has a long way to go. The actual cricket starts after U-19 only. At the senior level, you have to perform well as the competition is much more.”

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