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Exclusive Interview : “Receiving Ranji cap from Sachin Tendulkar was special”, Says Vishal Dabholkar

Vishal Dabholkar is a focused, dedicated and a disciplined cricketer who strives hard each day to showcase his best, each time he takes the field. Humble and shy by nature, combined with good looks, a very down to earth and hardworking individual and finally he is someone who has gone on to make his passion a profession.

Vishal Dabholkar is a slow left arm orthodox bowler who made his debut in the quarter finals of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season, against Baroda. He further went on to win the trophy for the best bowler in the 84th Times Cricket Shield earlier in the year…  From there onwards it was no looking back as today he has picked up 27 wickets in current ongoing season of the Ranji games. He is best remembered for his 12 wickets that he took against Tamil Nadu recently, which helped his team win the encounter. CricFit.com author Binaisha M. Surti met this fantastic cricketer at the Mumbai Cricket Association, where he spoke to her about his experience of playing for Mumbai, Sachin Tendulkar giving him his Ranji Trophy cap, how each senior in the side motivated him and what were the different things that helped him become a better cricketer.

Take us through your childhood…did you always want to become a cricketer?

Vishal: I did not plan to become a cricketer. My father played club level cricket. So during his last days of cricket when he would wake up in the morning and go for a jog he always liked me to accompany him. So I used to go with him. One day when we went as usual, there was a summer camp which was going to start at Worli. My father’s coach was there as a coach of the summer camp. When he saw me running, he told my father to send me to try out in the nets. That is how it all started for me. I started bowling medium pace… then after 2-3 weeks my sir told me that I did not have that much strength to bowl medium pace so I should start bowling spin. That is how I became a spin bowler. At the same time I also looked to score runs whenever my team needed me to.

Talk about your experience of walking out in those whites and playing for Mumbai?

Vishal: I never expected that I would be playing first class cricket for the Mumbai Ranji Team. All the boys in the team have played from different age group categories while I had only played an under 22 game once. Then next year I was dropped from the team due to lack of performance. Then I started from scratch again, I got a chance to play for Payyade Sports Club in the Kanga League. That team was full of first class players and some had even played in IPL. I was thinking at that point, as to how I would fit into this side. Everyone supported me a lot and wanted me to perform well. The players were all top class in that team, every bowler would land up getting 5 wickets so it was difficult for a new player in the team to do well. The first year I played for them, I was not very successful. Next year I played the police shield tournament and I took a lot of wickets for my side. I got a lot of confidence after I played for this team. Further on, I got a chance of playing Ranji Trophy for Mumbai and it was a lovely feeling. Mumbai is a giant team in Ranji Trophy winning so many titles. Every other state player dreams to score a century playing opposite Mumbai while on the other hand the bowlers look to grab 5 wickets against us too. I am a part of this wonderful team and that feels very special. When I made my debut I had a lot of senior players playing with me, that was a big boost and the crowd too was cheering for us. It was amazing playing in front of my home crowd and my family and friends were there to support me.

What was it like receiving your Ranji Trophy cap from Sachin Tendulkar? What have you learnt from the senior players in the side and what advice have they given you?

Vishal: A moment I will always cherish in my life is when Sachin Tendulkar gave me my cap. Hence my debut game was very special as I further played along with him. I learnt a lot from my seniors. I learnt pure dedication and discipline skills from Ajit Agarkar. He told me to stay focussed at all times. Wasim Jaffer on the other hand advised me to improve as a cricketer every year. When Sachin gave me my cap he told me that this is not the end, you have to aim to play at the highest level. Abhishek Nayar on the other hand can read every players mind, I still do not know how he does it… (Smiles)

What are the key things you learnt over the years that has helped you become a better cricketer?

Vishal: Every senior player in the team told me that I need to improve my armoury because today every team has a video analyst and they prepare accordingly. Every team thus comes to know about the opposition’s weakness and strengths. Wasim told me to try out unique things while bowling every year. He asked me to get something extraordinary into my bowling spell. This season I am trying to bowl more at the stumps so that I can try and get more wickets. As a bowler you have to hit the right spot, try and not allow the opposition batsmen to settle down. You need to be consistent as consistency is the key to picking up wickets.

Before the 2015-16 Ranji Season started did you set yourself a particular goal or target which you wanted to achieve?

Vishal: I never really set any goal. The only goal was to get into the team by performing well. Last year I played only 4 games but then I was dropped as I did not do well. Then I started thinking as to how I would get back in the team for this season. My aim was just to perform well in the local tournaments. I almost lost hope as to how I would make it back. But I am grateful that I got another chance, I performed well in the Buchi Babu Tournament final and here I am.

You have started this season on a good note, trying out various variations with the ball. Is that the main reason why you have been successful in picking up wickets?

Vishal: I am not a big spinner of the ball…and consistency is the key for me. I just try to bowl every delivery at the stumps. I want the batsman to try and play every delivery of mine because when they do that then they tend to make mistakes. If you do not bowl straight then that would give the opposition a chance to score many runs. A lot of hard work in the off season too has helped me gain success. This season I shortened my run up, worked on my technique, my foot work and the results are showing.

Currently you are in your prime form, does it bother you that you are not playing in the IPL?

Vishal: No not really because I am not aiming for the IPL. I am aiming to play the longer formats. All though I was a part of the auctions at one point but did not get picked. It is an entertaining format and hopefully I too will get a chance someday.

Every cricketer goes through a good and bad phase. What have been the highs and lows of your career so far?

Vishal: Whenever I pick up wickets for Mumbai I consider it my high. I always look to pick up wickets and help my team win the game. On the other end, whenever I do not perform well and the team losses that is when I consider it a low phase.

Every cricketer in some way or the other like to mould oneself on their favourite cricketer who inspires them. Who do you emulate?

Vishal: I do not try and emulate, in fact I try to be myself. I like trying out various things in every season and that is how I keep learning. I have been a big fan of Padmakar Shivalkar (a former Indian first class cricketer who was a slow left arm orthodox bowler). He was an amazing bowler.

In October 2015 you helped Mumbai to a 1 wicket win Vs Tamil Nadu, at the same time you took 12 wickets in that game. Would you term this as your best performance till date?

Vishal: Yes definitely. During the 2nd innings, it was very necessary for us to get that added boost by getting them all out as quickly as possible as we were looking for an outright victory. Further, speaking about the batting, we were 9 wickets down and anything could have happened. Playing with Balwinder was good though there was pressure. We just decided to play our normal game and stick on till the very end. At that time we did not want to make any mistake by throwing our wickets away. In the end, when Balwinder hit the winning stroke, I was watching the ball carefully… I thought it would go for a boundary, but it stopped and I had to run hard for the 2nd run. It was a nail biting finish as we finally won. Everyone was very happy in the dressing room and it was so good to see all of them with big smiles after the victory.

Were there any challenges that you faced that you faced initially in your career? How do you motivate yourself to come out as a winner?

Vishal: There were a few challenges as I had to perform well for Mumbai. Whenever you are playing as a main spinner for your side, you have to be at your best, perform well and pick wickets etc. Further, whenever I have a bad day on field I just think about bowling in the right areas and how I can become better. I would then try and concentrate on my game, future plans, try and not repeat my mistakes.

Who has been your biggest inspiration when it came to you choosing to become a cricketer?

Vishal: I started playing cricket because of my father… It was never easy for me as he was a very good batsman and I am a bowler. While on the other hand my mother has been a big inspiration as she has put in a lot of effort towards making me a successful cricketer and I am very grateful for that.

With so much competition today in the cricketing circuit, how do you deal with the pressure of being at your best every single time?

Vishal: I never try and compare myself with others. I never think about competition. I take each game at a time, just telling myself that it is another game and I need to give it my best.

What is Aditya Tare like as captain of Mumbai?

Vishal: He is a great captain and I enjoy playing under him…he is very calm and cool on field. He knows the team plan very well and helps very one stick to it. He motivates and supports all of us. Whenever someone is not doing well he will come and have a chat with the respective cricketer and give him confidence.

When not playing cricket, how do you switch off and destress yourself?

Vishal:  I like watching television, going for a long drives with friends as I love to drive and I love watching movies too…that is how I switch off completely.

Being consistent is the key to gaining your place in the team. What do you think is more difficult, getting chosen to play for Mumbai or finding a placed in the playing 11?

Vishal: Both…as there are many cricketers waiting in line to play for Mumbai. To get a chance in the playing 11, one has to perform well all the time so as to seal his spot in the side.