Rohit Sharma backs Dhawal Kulkarni after victory over Kings XI
Dhawal Kulkarni found himself in a strange place on Monday night. Against Kings XI Punjab on Monday, with 17 needed to win, the Mumbai Indians bowler conceded 12 runs in an eight-ball final over, which included a wide and a no-ball. Two nights before the match against Kings XI, Kulkarni had bowled a match-winning, three-wicket spell at the same venue, with the wickets of Tillekaratne Dilshan, Virat Kohli and AB de Villiers to his name, but the manner in which he bowled the final over against Kings XI turned from a hero to its antithesis.
Six deliveries in the eight-ball over - and what should have been a nine-ball over when square-leg umpire Asad Rauf failed to notice a full toss above waist height - were full tosses. Such was the angst against Kulkarni that a reporter asked Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma how "Dhawal Kulkarni did everything he could to lose the match". But Rohit stood firmly behind his team-mate.
"Dew takes a lot of things out of equation," Rohit said. "Spinners find it very hard to turn the ball. Bowlers, in general, find it difficult to grip the ball. As far as Dhawal is concerned, you can't be so aggressive. It's just that anybody can have a bad game. You see the way he bowled in the last game. As I said, it's not easy with the dew. You've got to give him some time.
"This was just his second game and he came and bowled pretty well, I would say. It's not easy to come and bowl the last over with that wet ball. I think he did a pretty good job."
Kulkarni is one of the shadow men, who belongs to a list of premier domestic pace bowlers who do not come into the frame for India selection. Though Pankaj Singh tops that list, Kulkarni is not far behind. Those on Kulkarni's side say that his number of five-wicket hauls - 11, to be precise - is almost as much as the number of first-class games played by some of the reputed bowlers. Yet after being on the tour with the Indian team to New Zealand in 2009, Kulkarni has stayed in the wilderness and is yet to be offered a central contract.
One of Kulkarni's main drawbacks, after returning from the tour in New Zealand in 2009, was said to be lack of genuine pace. Over the last four years, though, he has improved on his physique and fitness and it has reflected on his pace as well. "He's an absolute gym man," Rohit said. "He likes to work out, he likes to be fit. I know that he bowled [at] about 140[kph], so it shows that he has been really working hard."
Captain of the Mumbai Indians for the last three matches, Rohit reiterated that Kulkarni's performance in his two IPL matches so matches had been remarkable for a player who had spent a month on the bench."It's very tough for any player, not just Dhawal," he said. "Woh bechara pichhle chhe-saat matches khela nahi tha [The poor guy was benched for the last six-seven games]. Yet, he bowled a match-winning spell in the last game. On Monday, he defended 17 runs under pressure in the last over."
"It's not easy for a guy sitting out to come in with all of us expecting a huge performance from him. Still, I think he showed a lot of maturity. Having played together for many years now, we both understand each other well and it helps both of us," Rohit said.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo