Mumbai v Jharkhand, Ranji Trophy, Group A, Mumbai December 5, 2013

Mumbai coach talks up ageless Tambe

Sulakshan Kulkarni, the Mumbai coach, has strongly backed Pravin Tambe, the 42-year-old legspinner who is yet to play a first-class match. Kulkarni said Tambe had hardly been hit even in the harsh Twenty20 format, and had delivered wickets whenever asked to by his Rajasthan Royals captain Rahul Dravid.

Tambe was included in the Mumbai Ranji squad to face Jharkhand on the strength of his recent performances in club cricket and the unimpressive form of younger spinners such as Iqbal Abdulla. Tambe impressed in the Champions League T20 for Royals earlier this year. He was the tournament's leading wicket-taker with 12 wickets in five games at an economy-rate of 4.10.

"Forty two hua toh kya hua? (So what if he is 42?) He has performed," Kulkarni said. "It is not about how many wickets he has taken (in club cricket). It is about the quality. People have seen how he bowls. In all the IPL seasons so far, I have never seen a legspinner, including a quality one like Amit Mishra, who has never been hit for six. In the entire tournament (CLT20) Tambe was never hit for six.

"Whenever the captain wanted a wicket, he would get it. That too on a seaming track in Jaipur. For a legspinner to take wickets on a seaming track requires heart, both from the captain and the bowler. Name me a bowler who has not been hit for six. He has all the deliveries. Legspinner, googly, flipper. And the temperament."

Kulkarni recalled the great Mumbai left-arm spinner Padmakar Shivalkar's comeback in 1988 when he was nearly 48. "I was part of that game against Karnataka here in which Paddy played a key role. He turned the game with two crucial wickets (of Gundappa Viswanath and Roger Binny). We came through in a very close finish."

Kulkarni was guarded on whether Tambe would be handed what would be an incredible first-class debut for a man who would consistently stand out over the years among the gaggle of local net bowlers for his age and tirelessness. Kulkarni would only say that there was nothing wrong in selecting a 42-year-old in the squad when he had the quality.

However, Abhishek Nayar, the Mumbai captain, suggested the Wankhede pitch might not be one on which you would play two spinners. Left-armer Vishal Dabholkar, 16 years younger than Tambe, has been Mumbai's first-choice spinner this season, and has taken 20 wickets from four matches at an average of 16.80.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo