You want a leader like Ajinkya Rahane: Dhawal Kulkarni

Dhawal Kulkarni for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy 2024 Final (Image: BCCI Domestic)

As Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy for the 42nd time, Dhawal Kulkarni’s teammates lifted him on their shoulders. The veteran seamer was bidding adieu to first-class cricket after 96 games, in which he took 285 wickets. Kulkarni got the farewell he deserved. Now, as he saunters into a golden sunset, the 35-year-old spoke to RevSportz about the Ranji triumph and his career. Excerpts:

Q: After the final, your teammates lifted you on their shoulders. How did it feel?

A: That was one of the most memorable moments of my life. The way my teammates showed respect towards me, I’m very much humbled by whatever they did for me.

Q: Did any memories come to mind?

A: Yeah, obviously. I was going to play the last game of my career. I have played first-class for 17 seasons and I started thinking about when I started playing the game. The way I have played cricket, the ups and downs, my memories of playing cricket at Wankhede, the titles that we have won; everything was in front of my eyes.

Q: Seventeen seasons in first-class cricket, what are the biggest takeaways?

A: The India cap that I received, the ODI cap. As a youngster you always dream about representing your country and when you achieve that, it’s one the memories you want to cherish. Winning the Ranji Trophies for Mumbai, winning the Duleep Trophies for West Zone, being part of the IPL teams — Mumbai Indians, Rajasthan Royals and Gujarat Lions — All of these things.

Q: Looking back, are you satisfied or are there some regrets?

A: No, no, absolutely satisfied. It’s been a long career, and I don’t think many fast bowlers have achieved so many years of playing first-class cricket. So I’m very happy and proud of myself. Obviously as a cricketer you want to wear the Test cap. But that was I guess not written in my destiny. But many wonderful things were written in my destiny that I got to know after the win (in the Ranji final); playing the last game, taking the first wicket of the match and the last wicket… Some very fond memories that I will cherish throughout my life.

Q: Mumbai won the Ranji Trophy after a gap of eight years. From that point of view, how happy are you with this triumph?

A: Firstly, to represent Mumbai is a big thing. There’s a legacy which the greats of Indian cricket have created. To give a few names, Sunil Gavaskar sir, Ravi Shastri sir, Sachin Tendulkar sir and talking about the fast bowlers, Ajit Agarkar, Zaheer Khan; guys who are legends. And to be a part of that team takes a lot. You have to be a consistent performer if you want to be in that dressing room. That’s what Mumbai cricket demands. Yeah, the gap was eight years, but we worked really hard in the past eight years. Two years went down because of Covid.

We had planned before the start of this season. All credit to the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA). They helped us during preparation. They sent us to Alur because it was raining heavily in Mumbai that time. We had a residential camp. Then we played the Buchi Babu. So that was part of the preparation and the only thing that we discussed was to win the Ranji Trophy. And we played good cricket. Every guy wanted to win it badly.

Kulkarni being felicitated (Image: MCA)

Q: You won the Ranji Trophy in the past. This time, was it a little different?

A: Yes, 100 per cent. Every win is different. This wasn’t an easy win. Vidarbha won the Ranji Trophy twice in the last five-six years and to beat a team like Vidarbha takes a lot. They also played very good cricket throughout the season. And if you saw the game, it wasn’t an easy walk. Every session we had to fight hard. And our guys put their hands up and put in a lot of hard work.

Q: Ajinkya Rahane led brilliantly wasn’t it, despite him not scoring runs?

A: 100 per cent. You want a leader like Ajinkya Rahane. He is a selfless captain. It is very difficult when you aren’t performing and you have to lead the team, looking after each and every individual, right from the first player to the 16th player. He showed concerns for each and every individual. He backed everyone right throughout the season, whether the person is performing or not. And that is the quality you look for in a captain.

Also, to mention our coach Omkar Salvi. You need a coach who is a good friend and understands his players and shows empathy towards his players. He, along with Ajinkya, put in a lot of hard work in this.

Q: Also, Mumbai have thrown up some very promising young cricketers to look forward to.

A: There are a lot of good youngsters in the Mumbai team. To name a few, Musheer Khan, Tanush Kotian, Tushar Deshpande and Mohit Avasthi. Mohit had a wonderful season but unfortunately missed the final due to a niggle. It was an overall team performance. Everyone chipped in.

Also Read: Collective effort takes Mumbai to 42nd Ranji title

Q: So you agree to the fact that the current crop of young cricketers is very much committed to first-class cricket and it’s not only about the IPL?

A: 100 per cent. Because, unless you play the Ranji Trophy or first-class cricket, nobody is going to recognise you. And when you perform heavily like this, your performance is going to count. To give a few examples, Suryakumar Yadav, Sarfaraz Khan and Shreyas Iyer. They have performed heavily in first-class cricket, over four-five seasons. And they have got their rewards.

Q: Do you think Musheer has the potential to play for India?

A: It’s too early to say. It was just his first season. He has to show consistency like his brother (Sarfaraz). I’m sure Musheer has the same grit and determination in him, and he looks very good.

Q: During the final, Rohit Sharma came to the Mumbai dressing room and had a word with you and the other players. What was the conversation like?

A: Rohit has always followed Mumbai cricket closely. He has been an integral part of the dressing room. And he always shows concern about Mumbai cricket. To come and watch the final, to come and see me play for the last time, it was a special gesture by him.

Q: What is your plan for the future?

A: I might play some leagues. Cricket has given me so much, I want to give it back to the game. I will always be associated with cricket in some way; coaching, mentoring or whatever it may be.

Q: Shreyas Iyer showed character, playing through pain and also considering the issues he has gone through. Do you agree?

A: 100 per cent. Credit to him that he put his hands up. That was a crucial phase actually. He took on the Vidarbha bowlers and got a good partnership with Musheer (in the second innings). We needed that badly. Shreyas showed tremendous character.

Kulkarni for Mumbai (Image: Dhawal Kulkarni Twitter/X)

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