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Being a mentor to next-gen is a Mumbai legacy; I’m carrying that forward: Kulkarni

Last updated on 02 Sep 2023 | 08:33 AM
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Being a mentor to next-gen is a Mumbai legacy; I’m carrying that forward: Kulkarni

Dhawal Kulkarni sat down with for a chat on his career, Mumbai cricket, what continues to inspire him, and much more

Dhawal Kulkarni is a tireless workhorse. Never the one to walk away from challenges, he has continued to be Mumbai's pace spearhead for over a decade and has now become a mentor for a talented group of youngsters coming through the ranks. 

Notwithstanding the fact that he may never play for India in the future, Kulkarni continues to appear for Mumbai whenever he is fit and raring. After a break of one season due to a quadriceps injury, which he sustained during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Kulkarni is back with the Mumbai squad for the Buchi Babu Invitational Cricket Tournament, organized by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA) - a red-ball tournament that has its own history.

On the sidelines of the match between Delhi and Mumbai at the beautiful Salem Cricket Foundation Ground, Kulkarni sat down with for a chat on his career, Mumbai cricket, what continues to inspire him, and much more.

Over the years, you have become one of the most prominent mentors for Mumbai bowlers—and the Mumbai team, in general. Now, coming back after a year—like, you are mentoring them again, taking the chance all over again—how does that feel? 

Mumbai cricket has always been known for its talent and unity—the unity we show on and off the field. It's not about that one single person or myself. It's about the whole team. It's always been like that. When you talk about Mumbai cricket, it's always been about unity for so many years. And that's what has shown. That's what I've shown. That's what we've shown as a team on the field. 

We've won so many championships, and it's a legacy. So we're just carrying that forward. Before me, it was Ajit (Agarkar), then Zaheer (Khan). They used to mentor me. And now, the responsibility is on my shoulders. I’ve got the experience of so many years. So whatever I've learned from those guys—when they were in the team, I was just a youngster. And whatever I've learned, I'm trying to carry that forward and help these guys, whoever is bowling along with me. 

How do you see the transformation of that bowling unit in the last six to seven years? How they’ve become the kind of team that they have become today? 

Obviously, it's more about the experience. After 2015-16, when I was with the Indian team, guys like Shardul (Thakur) and Tushar (Deshpande) got chances to play, and they gained experience after playing. There is no substitute for experience. These guys have performed well for Mumbai. And it's been like that for Mumbai. 

There are so many guys coming and going. Cricket never stops; players don't stop coming from Mumbai. There's a lot of talent in Mumbai. The Mumbai Cricket Association has done a wonderful job showing trust and faith in them. If you see guys like Shardul and Tushar, they've evolved over the years. And now they look as if they're an experienced bunch.

When we met in 2018, right after the Vijay Hazare Trophy in Bangalore, you were speaking about the impact of your cricketing career, how you were always inclined towards doing well for Mumbai, and how that had always kept you going. Four or five years later, you have taken a break. You have done commentary—you’ve done an excellent job of that. But coming back and doing the hard yards in a non-first-class match—what keeps you going even now? What is the major motivating factor for you?

You know, it's always been about playing for Mumbai. First, it was about playing for India. And now that I've played for India for a number of years, it's more about playing for Mumbai and winning them championships. 

It's always been my goal since I started playing. I've been a part of five championships that we've won. And this year, I'm really looking forward to winning the six for myself and the team. And I've always loved this job of taking responsibility and guiding the younger guys in the team.

Also, your fitness has been consistent and helped you have a long-standing career.

Yeah, obviously, being a fast bowler, you have to stay fit. And last year, I wasn't fit. I had turned my quadricep while playing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Tournament. And it takes a toll on your body—being a fast bowler in these conditions, especially when you're playing in India. But at the same time, I love doing that job, which I have been doing. This is my 17th year for Mumbai. And every year is a challenge for me. I try to do better, personally and for the Mumbai team. I love playing for Mumbai. It's my passion.

Buchi Babu Tournament came back after a long time. How do you see the return of the Buchi Babu Tournament in the context of fast bowling and cricket, in general? 

For me, it's good to play a tournament before the main season starts. It’s good to get in those yards—the workload, it's all about. For me, if you ask me personally, it's more about the workload before going into the main tournaments. And the Buchi Babu Tournament has done a good job. They've given us good grounds to play, with good facilities. So, everyone is enjoying playing here in Chennai.

In the offseason in Mumbai, how do you keep yourself, especially in terms of fitness and practice? 

This year, Mumbai Cricket has done a wonderful job. It's always raining during this season, from June to mid-September. So Mumbai Cricket has done a good job this year. They sent us to Bangalore, where we played two-day games, and then we played a T20 and a one-day game. So they have done a good job this year. 

That was the start of the season for us. Because in Mumbai, there's no way you can practice outdoors. It's all about indoors, and you have to work more on your fitness. So, this year, we've planned well—worked on our fitness, then went to Bangalore. We’re here now, playing Buchi Babu. After this, we have a practice tournament before the Syed Mushtaq Ali starts as well. 

So everything is well-planned this year.

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