Mumbai v Saurashtra, Ranji Trophy Super League, Mumbai December 23, 2007

Kulkarni returns to Mumbai squad

Nilesh Kulkarni has been recalled to the Mumbai squad for the crunch match against Saurashtra © Cricinfo Ltd
"Nilesh Kulkarni is back," Milind Rege, the Mumbai selector, announced in a dramatic fashion after the selection meeting ahead of the crucial tie against Saurashtra. The selectors made two other changes, roping in Moondeep Mangela in place of the injured Ajit Agarkar and Kshemal Waigankar for Bhavesh Patel.

The note of drama was justified, as Kulkarni was dropped from the squad at the start of the season after he had dithered over joining the Indian Cricket League (ICL). When the Mumbai selectors contacted him on the eve of the season, Kulkarni reportedly asked for a few days' to convey his availability and the selectors responded by dropping him for the Mohammad Nissar Trophy match against Karachi Urban and, later, picking fellow left-arm spinner Iqbal Abdulla for the Ranji season.

"We wanted to send a strong message to Nilesh," a senior Mumbai Cricket Association official close to the selection committee told Cricinfo. "He wanted a few days' time, but we decided to take our own decision."

But with Abdulla managing to pick up just nine wickets from four games and with a virtual quarter-final coming up against Saurashtra, the selectors have decided to bring back the experienced Kulkarni. Also, that Abdulla has been picked for India's Under-19 tour of South Africa factored in the decision.

Kulkarni, for his part, was obviously relieved and happy to learn about his recall. He was at the nets when Amol Muzumdar, Mumbai's captain, broke the news to him. "It feels good, but it's more important to think about the game," Kulkarni said. "It's a very crucial game for Mumbai and we are at a stage where we have to win it."

Was he expecting to be picked and what he has been doing in the enforced break? "As a player you are always expecting a recall and that's what keeps motivating you. I kept myself fit playing in the local cricket league, company cricket and Times Shield, and I am happy with my form. I played about six games and bowled lots of overs.

"Obviously I was disappointed after being dropped, but it was not in my hands and chose not to think too much about it. If you start thinking on negative aspects, you can't come out of it. I was always aware that there will be an opportunity around the corner and kept motivating myself."

Understandably, he didn't want to talk about the controversy surrounding his possible ICL entry. "That's history now. I am free from all that and have kept myself fit, physically and mentally. This is my chance to continue all the good work that I left from last year."

Kulkarni will be hoping he can reprise last season's heroics when he picked up a ten-wicket haul against Gujarat in the league stage to kick-start Mumbai's campaign. Moreover, Ramesh Powar's recent form - nine wickets from four games - has not been good and he could do himself and Mumbai a favour by spinning some magic.

"Powar is a champion bowler and we complement each other well. We understand each other's psyche and I am looking forward to bowling alongside him. As a bowler you always want to take the responsibility. As a senior and a team-man, I am pretty focused on what I have to achieve mentally and want to perform on the field."

Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo