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When he turns out for the Rajasthan Royals in IPL 2014, Dhawal Kulkarni will be aiming for the India cap which has so far proven to be elusive for the pacer. The young pacer was recruited by the franchise, which is known to have given quite a few players a stage to perform and get noticed.
Kulkarni was part of the Indian team that toured New Zealand in 2008-09, but returned without getting a single match. And then, he even had to sit out the home series against West Indies in November 2013 as he sustained an injury on the day he was picked in the squad.
Now, after a layoff, he has come back hard and has been making an impact in the domestic circuit. The young pacer from the stables of Mumbai has continuously honed his skills and learnt from seniors. While speaking to iplt20.com, he discussed the valuable inputs he got from ace India pacer Zaheer Khan and former India captain Sachin Tendulkar. “The help that I got from Sachin last year was amazing. That was the best thing that I could have ever got,” he said.
Armed with all the inputs, Kulkarni is now looking forward to impress during the upcoming IPL season.
Excerpts from his interview:
You have made an impactful comeback. How did you prepare for it?
It was a tough season for me, I had just played the first game of the Ranji Trophy and got picked for the series against West Indies on the basis of my performance in the series against New Zealand A. It was tough on me to get picked into the Indian team and then on the same day to get injured and be out for three months. It was long break and there was nothing to do. I couldn’t do much because of the fracture. Every day was like a month.
Before the Deodhar Trophy West Zone League that I played in, different things went into the preparation. First I was at the NCA for my rehabilitation, and then I started bowling. Gradually, I got my rhythm back. And so it was a long journey in a short span. It has been tough on me, but I took it as a challenge and right now I am back.
What was it that you did that has helped you come back so well?
Nothing much. I kept thinking about what I had I done during the A series against New Zealand, because that was where I was bowling at a 100 percent and the rhythm was fantastic. So after a break of a month or so, I started thinking what I was doing and what I wanted to improve. I wanted to become a better bowler after that. I had a challenge to come back. Because it was a long break, I couldn’t do much and I was just thinking, sitting at home, doing nothing. The only thing was, I wanted to get back on the field, and I was dying to get back.
What is your strength while bowling on subcontinent wickets?
I just stick to my basics. I bowl in the stumps and try to get the ball to swing away from the right-hander, and the same way get it in for the left-hander.
You have been picked by the Rajasthan Royals where you will have quite a few of your Mumbai teammates. How does that feel?
It feels great to be part of a new team after six long years. I was with the Mumbai Indians, and to be part of this new team is going to be a really new experience for me and one that I am looking forward to.
RR is known for giving opportunities to emerging players. Do you look forward to that?
Yes, absolutely! I wasn’t getting proper chances when I was with the Mumbai Indians, because there were all great bowlers there. Here, it is a new team, a young team, so I am sure I will get chances. I just have to prove myself on that level.
Are you raring to have a go at your Mumbai and former MI teammate Rohit Sharma?
Rohit is a wonderful guy and a wonderful player. He has been in good form. I am raring to have a go at him.
How much has Zaheer Khan’s presence helped you?
Bowling in tandem with Zaheer is really great. He is the greatest bowler that India has produced and to share the new ball with him is an honour for me.
What have you picked up from him?
How to get the batsman out and how to plan and set the batsman up while bowling. The things that I have learnt are bowling with the old ball and how to reverse the ball. And once last year, or the year before that, he shared with me things about wrist position and how to hold the ball when you are swinging it. Also, how to pitch it up and how to get back spin (are what I learnt from him). There were many things that he shared with me.
And along with that, the help that I got from Sachin last year was amazing. That was the best thing that I could have ever got. When he used to stand at mid-on or mid-off, he used to tell me what to bowl and where to bowl. And looking at the situation, he used to help me a lot while bowling and that has improved me as a bowler and improved my mentality as well.
What is your goal going into the season?
The goal is to give my best this year. It is going to be big season ahead; there is the England series and Australia series coming up. So this IPL is going to be really crucial and I am looking forward to it.
What have been the gains from IPL for you over the years?
It was really new for me when I played first. I hadn’t, till then, played in front of such big crowds. So it was a completely new thing for me. And it was a matter of pride to share the dressing room with great players. I had always dreamt of sharing a dressing room with such players.
What has helped your bowling over the last few years?
I have improved on my pace and consistency, which was lacking when I started playing.
As a bowler grows older, skill along with pace becomes very crucial. What is your take on that?
With pace and skill, fitness was important for me. Initially, I didn’t look at fitness much, but later on, the senior players pushed me during the off-season camp. They helped me with fitness. And I learnt a lot about fitness and how it helps and why it is important.
There was hardly any room for error when he was on the field. Off the field too umpire Simon Taufel was immaculate and precise with his answers when he was asked about his life after umpiring. Be it his camaraderie with players, his want to give a lot more to the gentleman’s game or professing his love for butter chicken and butter naan, we got stumped by the ump in this free flowing chat with IPLT20.com
You started off as a medium pacer in your playing days; how did umpiring come into the picture?
I stopped playing due to a back injury, and then I just went along to do an umpiring course. I wanted to earn some extra cash on a Saturday afternoon, and it went from my hobby to a part-time job. And how lucky am I!
Why did you call it quits when you were at your peak?
I chose to do something different. I thought I had done enough in umpiring and I wanted to help the sport in another way. I had exhausted myself as much as I could in the world of umpiring. So now I have taken on a performance and training role, which is really worthwhile. I was not giving up something; I just chose to do something else.
And how is your new role of an umpire performance and training manager?
I love it! I have been on the job for nearly a year and a half and I cannot believe how quickly it has gone by. We have only just scratched the surface and I am very lucky to be working with a great team of fellow coaches and other umpires.
With the game changing at such a rapid pace, how does an umpire keep himself in sync?
One of our big focuses is to keep pace with the game. Playing conditions will always keep changing, technology and third umpire tools will keep changing, and it is extremely difficult to manage up to seven or eight sets of playing conditions at a time with the different formats that you might be umpiring. Umpiring is not easy, and it was never designed to be easy. It is a part of the job.
Who has the tougher job – the on-field umpires or the third umpire?
I think being a third umpire is the toughest job. You have to manage the match, support the on-field umpires and work with various forms of technology with the expectation that you cannot get anything wrong. People forget the odd mistake on the field, but they do not forget a third umpire’s mistake.
Bowlers and batsmen have brought about a lot of innovation in their game. How challenging is it to be an umpire when you have spinners like Sunil Narine or an R Ashwin bowling at batsmen? Have you picked the doosra yourself?
It is very challenging. It is as challenging for the umpire as it is for the batsmen. If a batsman is struggling to hit the ball in the middle, it is challenging for the umpire to get his decisions right. But the point is I do not watch the ball out of the bowler’s hand. I watch the batsman. Also, a part of our programme is to go to the nets, look at players bowl and plan accordingly.
Do players or teams ask umpires for advice regarding certain nuances of their game? Any incident that you can recall?
Occasionally teams might ask you for advice. Mohammad Yousuf was one guy who would always come down the non-striker’s end and ask you, “Am I falling too much across.” I am actually surprised why many coaches do not ask the umpires what they thought about certain things, because they have got the best view.
How do you react when you see someone like a Chris Gayle hitting a ball towards you? Do umpires need protective gear?
(Laughs)It has been spoken about and I hope that day does not come. Some umpires have considered it though. You do need protective gear when you see guys like Chris Gayle, David Warner and Virender Sehwag bat the way they do. Cricket bats these days are so powerful that the first thought that comes to your mind is to get out of the way.
How difficult is it to give caught behind decisions or listen to faint edges in a jam-packed stadium?
Extremely difficult, and if I go back to that one-day series between India and Pakistan in 2004, it was tough to even hear someone standing beside you. The stadium was packed to capacity and it gets difficult to hear the players, leave alone your faint edges. I challenge any cricket lover to stand in the middle at Wankhede Stadium and try to make a caught behind decision.
What has been your funniest moment on the cricket field?
Watching Daryl Harper chase a dog out of the field. They were going around in circles and you could not understand who was chasing whom.
What was your first reaction when you saw Billy Bowden on the field doing his customary steps?
I went like, “GEE, WHAT IS THAT! Certainly not the way I was brought up.”
Do you follow any IPL team? Do you have a personal favorite?
Unfortunately, I do not have a passion for cricket the way I used to now that I am a match official. So you almost become more clinical in what you do and how you do it. You do not appreciate the skills of cricket; I just watch the umpires and stick to facts.
What is the best thing about umpiring?
The best thing about umpiring is the challenge, the job satisfaction and walking off the field at the end of the day after giving your best; also, being part of international cricket at the highest level and working with some great athletes. It is a great journey of self discovery, being able to compete at the highest level in different countries and you learn a lot about yourself.