Wankhede’s bounce helped me thrive for Mumbai in Ranji Trophy: Nilesh Kulkarni
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Wankhede’s bounce helped me thrive for Mumbai in Ranji Trophy: Nilesh Kulkarni

Former India and Mumbai left-arm spinner Nilesh Kulkarni writes on his highly successful Ranji Trophy experience with the Mumbai team

cricket Updated: Nov 09, 2017 23:13 IST
Ranji Trophy,Wankhede Stadium,Nilesh Kulkarni
Nilesh Kulkarni won five Ranji titles with Mumbai.(HT file photo)

There is always an element of challenge when you aspire to be part of the Mumbai Ranji team; and when you get it, the sense of responsibility doubles up. Then you have the pressure of continuously performing to remain in the eleven or there will be two-three players looking to take your place. So, these are the learnings which you go through. And having gone through all this, when I look back now, it is an entirely satisfying feeling to be part of five Ranji finals-winning teams (overall seven).

The critical part of a Mumbai cricketer’s journey is looking up at the legacy because the kind of people who contributed to Mumbai cricket and at the level which they contributed was phenomenal — like Sunil Gavaskar Sir, Madhav Apte Sir, Dilip Vengsarkar Sir, Sachin Tendulkar. And then to be part of that champion team is an amazing feeling.

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I carry some fabulous memories, especially of my first season, 1994. I was the highest wicket-taker that season, and that in three innings I didn’t get a chance to bowl a single ball, just imagine the competition we had in the team. Such was the dominance of that team under Sachin’s captaincy that we would finish games inside three days till the final against Punjab. So you had to be on your toes all the while to make sure that every opportunity you get in a bowling unit that also had Salil Ankola, Paras Mhambrey, Abey Kuruvilla and Sairaj Bahutule, you make it count.

Then, the 1996-97, day-night final at Gwalior against Delhi sticks out because it was an unknown commodity. It was such a flat track that we started preparing ourselves three days in advance for the last day knowing that we will need some runs in the reserve. So, we (straightaway) got into the strategy of bowling negative to make sure that it will frustrate the Delhi batsmen because the kind of batting line-up they had we didn’t want to keep too much to score on final day.

One knockout match we played in Chennai against Tamil Nadu, they had six left-handers in the top-seven, and I ended up taking six wickets. It was very satisfactory because traditionally left-arm spinners struggle against left-handers and they had guys like S Ramesh, Hemang Badani, S Sriram and S Sharath.

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Most importantly, I owe a lot to the Wankhede Stadium wicket. The bounce it affords perfectly suited my game. I was never a big turner of the ball, my strength was bounce. On a track with bounce, if you beat them then you get bat-pad chance or in the slips. It worked well for me, flighting the ball was not my stock delivery due to my height, so it helped me overcome the limitations I had.

At Wankhede, I cherish my performance in the 1994 semifinal against Tamil Nadu when I got a five-wicket haul against a batting line-up that had WV Raman, VB Chandreshekhar and Robin Singh.

My only half-century, against Andhra in 1996-97, also came at Wankhede.

(Nilesh Kulkarni is a former India left-arm spinner who played for Mumbai from 1994-95 to 2007-08. He claimed 357 wickets in 101 first class matches and played in five Ranji finals that Mumbai won.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal views of the author.

First Published: Nov 09, 2017 23:13 IST