Golwalkar's second chance to shine
Over the last seven seasons, the Indian Premier League has given lesser-known players a platform to perform alongside some of the best cricketers in the world, often leading to headlines like 'From rags to riches' or 'from obscurity to fame'. In its eighth season, the IPL will give a former first-class cricketer, who gave up the sport for academics and a corporate career, a chance to return to top-flight cricket.
Legspinner Yogesh Golwalkar, 35, was a member of the India A squad to Zimbabwe and Kenya in 2004, which was also MS Dhoni's first overseas tour. He emerged as Madhya Pradesh's first-choice spinner even as Narendra Hirwani was still around at the fag end of his career, and Golwalkar also had a county stint with Middlesex. Then he gave it up to pursue academics and a career as a corporate banker in the United Kingdom.
Almost a year after returning to India from England, Golwalkar received an email from Kings XI Punjab. "I have uploaded several videos of my legbreak bowling on YouTube, so they had gone through them and wanted me to send them my latest videos. I did that and they asked me to get registered for the IPL auction. Here I am now, hoping to ply my trade at the highest level yet again," an excited Golwalkar told ESPNcricinfo.
Seven years ago, however, some of that excitement had disappeared for Golwalkar, who found difficult to prepare for a first-class game, and struggled with the monotony and challenge of playing first-class cricket in India.
"I thought I would be able to take the next step but somehow it didn't happen," he said. "I had kind of hit a roadblock when it came to cricket. I was still taking wickets, but I wasn't really enjoying it. It had become too monotonous.
"And as you know, first-class cricket in India is not as exciting as it is in England or Australia. Nobody comes to watch you. I couldn't really motivate myself to continue doing the same, and thought of exploring something different."
At 28, in the 2008-09 season, when he was one of the prime legspinners in India, Golwalkar packed his kitbag and bid farewell not just to the first-class arena but also his hometown of Indore.
He pursued a Masters degree in business administration in the United Kingdom, where he had played county and minor county leagues for well over half-a-dozen years. He got through to the University of Bradford and specialised in finance and marketing strategising. In a short span, he went from a professional to an amateur cricketer.
While studying and even during his three-year stint as a professional in the corporate banking sector, Golwalkar continued playing amateur cricket. In 2011, he represented Broad Oak in the Huddersfield Cricket League and picked 70-plus wickets. Two years later, he had a successful outing for Hall Bower in the same tournament.
A legspinner in the classical mould, Golwalkar bowls all the variations of a wrist spinner. The googly is his stock ball but he has an effective flipper, too. Except for Tuesday night Twenty20 games on the minor county circuit, he hasn't played any T20 cricket. But he isn't too bothered.
"Having played first-class cricket and one-dayers for almost a decade, I know that you should be able to adjust to all forms of the game. And if you have done it in the longest format, it becomes easier to adapt to shorter formats. You will see that if I get the opportunity," the bowler said.
The IPL wasn't on his mind at the time and it didn't come into the picture last year either when an impressive career opportunity brought him back to India. While working for an IT firm, Golwalkar began rolling his arm over for his club side, Cricket Club of Indore, whenever he was in town. Sanjay Jagdale, a former national selector who was his first coach, was always forthcoming with advice and support.
Jagdale, who is now the president of the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association, was disappointed when Golwalkar decided to pursue academics. "He should have continued. He had so much of potential. As a selector also, we knew he had all the skills required to succeed. Legspinners take time in maturing. Usually they will have their struggles, they will go through bad patches more often than the finger spinners. They will go through technical problems. Somehow they manage. I was expecting him to overcome all that but he decided to move away."
Jagdale has no doubt that in terms of skill, Golwalkar can match with the requirements of IPL, but admits that physical and mental fitness will be a challenge for the bowler. "He has been out of top-flight cricket, so it would be a challenge for him. He has to be very fit, physically as well mentally," Jagdale said. "It's a good break for him. It would be great if he gets and opportunity and can come good."
For Golwalkar, the IPL stint gives him an opportunity to go through the grind all over again after a prolonged break where "he learned a lot about life in general in a cross-cultural environment". He added: "It is an unexpected opportunity for me to compete at such a big stage again, naturally it's a win-win situation for me."
In their breakthrough 2014 season under head coach Sanjay Bangar, Kings XI Punjab focused on signing players who were desperate to prove their ability to the world. Golwalkar, who has played a lot with and against Bangar during their heydays, would be keen to join the long list.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo