Vidarbha’s Akshay Karnewar: A switch-bowling wonder
Karnewar began plying his special skill in matches only when he turned 19.cricket Updated: Jan 18, 2016 20:43 IST
When Baroda all-rounder Irfan Pathan walked in to bat against Vidarbha last Friday in a Super League encounter of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 tournament in Mumbai, he was facing spinner Akshay Karnewar.
The left-handed batsman took guard against the off-spinner Karnewar. As he pushed him for a single and changed ends with partner Hardik Pandya, Pathan was stunned to see Karnewar mark a diagonal run-up as a left-arm orthodox spinner.
Flummoxed, Pathan walked up to Karnewar. “What are you, a right-arm spinner or a left-arm spinner?” Smiling, Karnewar told the former India player, “I can bowl both”.
Pathan was mighty impressed and advised him to keep working hard. He is not the first to be surprised by Karnewar’s exceptional ability. Almost every batsman who has faced him since his U-19 days has reacted in similar reaction.
Karnewar being persuaded to make a switch has an interesting precedence. Former India batsman, Surinder Amarnath was converted into a left-handed batsman by his father, former India skipper, the late Lala Amarnath because he would be competing with brother Mohinder Amarnath for an India spot.
It did work as Surinder played for India, scoring a century on Test debut against New Zealand in 1976, a match in which Mohinder also played.
In 2008, Chandigarh’s Vikas Chowhan, who bowled right- and left-arm pace, was among those who were called for trials by IPL team, Kolkata Knight Riders.
Former Australia coach John Buchchanan had predicted then that cricket would see a lot of ambidextrous cricketers.
The early switch
Quizzing the 23-year-old leads you to an interesting story. Karnewar started as an off-spinner but the young boy was encouraged by his personal coach Balu Navare to learn left-arm spin as such bowlers were in short supply in Nagpur.
“As a six year-old, my coach asked me to leave right-arm off-spin and start bowling left-arm. It was difficult initially because your left-arm doesn’t possess the strength to send the ball 22 yards. But I guess because I batted left-handed, I managed to gain strength in my left arm eventually. Since then, I have been a left-arm spinner who can also bowl off-spin,” Karnewar told HT from Mumbai, where his team next plays Kerala on Monday.
Good for career
However, Karnewar began plying his special skill in matches only when he turned 19. His coach took him to Sulakshan Kulkarni, the then U-19 coach of Vidarbha. “Sir told Kulkarni sir ‘he can bowl with both arms’. At first I was a little nervous but Navare sir convinced me that being an all-rounder will help me grow in my career. So, I took up the challenge and even Kulkarni sir motivated me to keep bowling,” said Karnewar.
This ability also gives Karnewar an advantage while fielding. Most batsmen expect him to throw left-hand and take the risk of stealing a single, only to be run out. When Karnewar fields inside the circle, he prefers throwing right hand and that catches batsmen by surprise. “The right shoulder has more strength, so I can send in a powerful throw in a run-out situation. There are times when I keep throwing with my left hand as well,” he said.
The extra option
Captains are only happy to have him. “Mostly we play one spinner. Since I am a batting all-rounder who can also bowl, most captains can include an extra all-rounder. That provides the team depth in batting without sacrificing a bowler.”
Batsmen not familiar with the laws of cricket ask the umpire whether this bowling switch is legitimate. “It’s not a problem. You just have to inform the umpire beforehand that you will be bowling left-arm to a right-hander and right-arm to a left hander. There is no law which restricts you,” he explained.
He has seven wickets from eight games in the ongoing Mushtaq Ali tournament. With the IPL auction due next month, Karnewar is hopeful. “I hope I get a contract this year. Maybe some franchise has noticed my style of bowling and would want me in the side,” he signs off.