‘Papa kehte hain bada naam karega, beta hamara aisa kaam karega…”
You are greeted by this vintage number from Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak when you call Delhi’s pacer Kulwant Khejroliya. This coming-of-age song couldn’t have been a more apt caller tune for Kulwant because his exploits in the Vijay Hazare Trophy quarter-final against Haryana on Sunday would surely have made his father Gaurishankar proud.
On an abrasive Chinnaswamy Stadium wicket in Bengaluru, the left-armer worked up decent pace, got the ball to reverse-swing, and bowled a match-altering spell in which he prised out six scalps, including a hat-trick. He was ably supported by new-ball partner Navdeep Saini, who picked up three wickets. Together, they were instrumental in restricting Haryana to 229, which was overhauled thanks to a 72-ball 104 by Gautam Gambhir. The win propelled Delhi into the Vijay Hazare Trophy semifinals, where they will play the winners of the Maharashtra-Jharkhand match.
Gambhir’s whirlwind century notwithstanding, it was all Khejroliya. His 6/31 capped another chapter to his gritty, against-all-odds initiation into cricket. Growing up in Rajasthan’s Jhunjhunu district, his father, who runs a kirana store, wanted his eldest son to join the army. But Kulwant was seduced by the idea of becoming a fast bowler. The story goes that three winters ago, the youngster told his father that he had got a job in Ahmedabad and left home. Instead, he boarded the bus to Delhi to try his luck in cricket. Gaurishankar was livid when he got whiff of his son’s intentions. “You can’t blame him for being angry at me,” Kulwant quipped. “Jhooth bolke ghar se bhaag gaya tha aur unhe laga ki cricket khel kar time barbaad karega.”
But Kulwant made rapid strides after he landed in the national capital. First, he got selected into Sanjay Bharadwaj’s famous LB Shastri Academy, where he met Gambhir. Three years later, after his List A and Ranji Trophy debuts and two plum IPL contracts, he returned to his village to a hero’s welcome.
“My villagers began to take note of my performances,” he explained. When he returned home after IPL 2018, his father finally was convinced by his son’s career path. Gleaming with pride, Gaurishankar would tell his friends, “Mera beta cricketer ban gaya hain”.
To fully understand Kulwant’s rapid strides as a cricketer, one needs to recall the last domestic season, when he was seen as an “unfinished product.” Despite his obvious talent, the Delhi think tank believed Kulwant lacked big-match temperament.
As the IPL came around, he received tips from former India fast bowler Ashish Nehra, who was the RCB bowling coach. Nehra, a left-armer himself, fine-tuned his skills and instilled discipline in his bowling. “He (Nehra) was definitely a big influence during the IPL. He kept giving me inputs about how to set up batsmen, and alter my line and length according to the game situations,” Kulwant noted.
The 26-year-old showed ample proof of his growing maturity. Haryana were buoyed by a 140-run fourth-wicket stand between Chaitanya Bishnoi and Pramod Chandila. “When Gautam bhai called me for the second spell, I altered my length a bit… preferring to bowl fuller since the ball was reversing. This worked for me and the match turned in our favour,” Kulwant explained.
He had given hint of this big-match temperament last year itself, when his six-for against Bengal in the Ranji Trophy took Delhi into the final for the first time in a decade. With 12 scalps in three games in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Kulwant could not have dreamt of a better start to the season. Apart from the IPL stint, he credits his brief India A sojourn as the game-changer. “I played just one game against Australia in the tri-series. But all these experiences helped me iron out my deficiencies,” he said. The pacer hasn’t found time to talk to his father after his performance in Bengaluru. But there is no doubt that Gaurishankar would be mighty proud of his son’s achievements.
Brief Scores: Haryana 229 (C Bishnoi 85; K Khejroliya 6/31) lost to Delhi 230/5 (G Gambhir 104) by five wickets.
Shaw and Rahane will play Hazare semis
Prithvi Shaw and Ajinkya Rahane will turn out for Mumbai in the Vijay Hazare Trophy semifinal on October 17 in Bangalore. They are not part of the ODI squad against the Windies. Mumbai clinched a nine-wicket win over Bihar on Sunday to enter the semis.
The team has already been boosted by Rohit Sharma’s presence, and now with the pair of Shaw and Rahane added to the eleven, will be favourites. Mumbai chief selector Ajit Agarkar confirmed in a text message that the pair from the India Test team will be joining the Mumbai squad. “Ajinkya and Prithvi will be playing semis for Mumbai in Vijay Hazare Trophy,” Agarkar said.
Brief scores: Bihar 69 in 28.2 overs lost to Mumbai 70/1 in 12.3 overs by 9 wickets.
(With inputs from Devendra Pandey)