Sunrisers Hyderabad v Rajasthan Royals, IPL 2015, Visakhapatnam April 16, 2015

A princely pair of supporting actors

In a team with Steven Smith, Ajinkya Rahane, James Faulkner and Tim Southee, centrestage might elude Dhawal Kulkarni and Pravin Tambe. But it would be hard to argue against their utility

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About an hour before the start of the game, the giant screens at the stadium alternated between flashing 'dance cam' and 'oblivious cam.' While the former recorded images of the dancing crowd, the curiously-named oblivious cam captured the audience without them being aware of it. Should such a camera have been trained on Rajasthan Royals, the focus would have remained firmly on the efforts of Dhawal Kulkarni and Pravin Tambe. Well before Royals fussed over a modest target, Kulkarni and Tambe had ensured they didn't have a lot more to chase.

The Mumbai duo's understated efficiency was on display at different stages of Sunrisers Hyderabad's innings, as they picked up two wickets each. When Kulkarni was handed the ball in the third over - he has been introduced no later than the fourth over this IPL - he immediately brought out his full range.

After a full delivery that Shikhar Dhawan drove unconvincingly for a single, he sent down a shortish slider that went past David Warner's attempted pull. Kulkarni followed it up with a slower cutter that eluded the batsman's slash. Warner got off strike the next ball, and Dhawan skipped down the pitch for a slap over cover to the boundary. One more ball remained. Kulkarni shortened his length and slanted it across to Dhawan, inducing a nick behind. Job done. Job begun.

In his next over, Kulkarni put himself on course for a hat-trick with a fuller ball homing in on middle and leg pinning KL Rahul to the crease. New batsman Eoin Morgan, playing his first game for Sunrisers, nearly bagged a golden duck, inside-edging a late in-ducker onto his pad. The following four deliveries were either on length or slightly back of it, as Morgan mustered only blocks and mishits.

Kulkarni's wicket-maiden was at the heart of a 10-ball phase where Sunrisers didn't score a run, losing two wickets, including Warner's run-out. Kulkarni conceded three more runs in his third over, and wasn't given another over. While Steven Smith's reluctance to using him at the death is evident, it's less clear why he hasn't finished his quota in any of the matches.

If Kulkarni owned the early overs, Tambe took charge of the middle stages. He began with a sharp legbreak to beat Naman Ojha. Four balls later, Ojha was reprieved at deep cover. Tambe had his man in his next over though with one that spun sharply from outside leg to crash into middle. Arms aloft and down on one knee, Tambe unleashed his trademark celebration.

Pravin Tambe's passionate efforts have been an inspiration to Rajasthan Royals in their undefeated campaign thus far © BCCI

In Tambe's third over, Sanju Samson failed to stump Morgan. Putting the let off behind him, he pitched the next delivery well up to Morgan, who missed the reverse-sweep and was plumb in front. At one point, Tambe appeared to be cramping up, but he shrugged it off with a few stretches and even put in a couple of diving saves off his bowling.

Whenever Tambe wasn't bowling, he kept himself busy by encouraging his team-mates or constantly checking with his captain if he had marked down his position at third man correctly. There was also the surprised smile and a shy wave of his hands to the crowd when they chanted his name. Ajinkya Rahane called Tambe an "inspiration."

"He has been phenomenal for us," Rahane said after the match. "42, 43-years-old guy and he is putting in his 100 percent every time. Lots to learn from him personally and also for everyone."

At different stages of their careers they might be, but Kulkarni and Tambe have similar plotlines. Tambe is the late bloomer, emerging from club cricket to play in the IPL and then make his first-class debut at the age of 42. Kulkarni, on the other hand, has been the invisible man of Indian cricket. After being selected to tour New Zealand with the India squad for the first time in 2009, Kulkarni had to wait five more years to make his international debut.

In the context of the IPL, it's an irony how these two have been overshadowed by superstars in a team that has always thrived on small names making it big. Granted that Deepak Hooda has ticked that box this season, much like Tambe himself did a couple of years ago. But, save for him, it has largely been about Smith, Rahane, James Faulkner and Tim Southee.

Neither Tambe nor Kulkarni has done badly. In fact with four scalps each, they are joint-highest on the wicket-takers list for Rajasthan as well as being one-two in terms of holding the lowest economy-rate - Tambe at 6.07, Kulkarni at 6.30 - among those having bowled 10 overs. The centrestage might elude them, but it would be hard to argue against their utility.

Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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