As Maharashtra coach Shrikant Kalyani was keenly surveying his stock of fast bowlers at the IS Bindra Stadium in Mohali, his most trusted medium pacer, Anupam Sanklecha, sauntered into the refreshment section of the nets for a breather. A few quick gulps of water and he jogged back to the nets and resumed his session with the urgency of someone their team banks heavily on in their quest of making the knockouts.
Their prospects, though, look bleak. Not only have they to beat the high-flying Karnataka but also need to gain bonus points. Worse still, no other team has scored as many runs as Karnataka this season. But Sanklecha had given Maharashtra lots of hope this season. In fact, his rich harvest is the primary reason they find themselves in the play-off equation. At one stage, they were the bottom-dwellers of the group, only Sanklecha to churn out defining performances match after match. That he sits atop the wickets chart—40 scalps—well illustrates the impact he had in turning his side’s fortunes around.
At 34, he might not be nursing India hopes, but this has been a point-proving season for the bowler from Ahmednagar, who has endured his share of ups and downs in a 12-year-long domestic career. Just when it seemed he was making heads turn in the domestic circuit, he made an ill-fated move to the ICL, from where it took him several years to win his place back in the side. That he has played just 47 first-class matches attest to it. Then he was forever in the shadows of Shrikant Mundhe and Samad Fallah. Whenever afforded with an opportunity, he showcased his utility, as borne out by his average of 24.94.
But never has he made as much impact for his team as this season. Against Vidarbha at Eden Gardens, he took 14 wickets for 94 runs, statistically the best bowling effort ever by a Maharashtra bowler. He then took eight wickets against Assam in the first innings, which helped them notch up their second win of this season.Irrespective of where Maharashtra end up this season, he can look back to this season with a hint of pride and satisfaction. He attributed it to better fitness. “From last year, I have been working on my fitness. I do not think about the age. If you look at me, can you tell me I am 34?” he asks.