From medium pacer to opener, Akshay Dullarwar has a long way to go

NAGPUR: "Akshay Dullarwar, who?"

Everyone had a question about this young lad after he scored 52 against Tamil Nadu in the league phase. Not many knew Akshay as he hadn't played any game for Vidarbha in Under-16 and Under-19. Once he was part of the Vidarbha Under-16 team led by Mohit Kale, now a Vidarbha U-23 skipper and Vidarbha's No 6. Apart from this, he came close to selection in Under-19 team a couple of years ago.

Many youngsters generally leave the game to focus on other career options. This 21-year-old right-hander, however, didn't give up. His practice schedule remained the same since he started playing at 12. He always had a goal of playing for Vidarbha. His perseverance has now paid off. Akshay's solidity at the top of the order is one of the reasons of Vidarbha's maiden Under-23 One-day final appearance. They will clash with Delhi for the title on Friday.

Interestingly, it was Vidarbha Under-23 coach Trevor Gonsalves who insisted for Akshay's selection after watching him in the trials. "He hadn't scored much but Gonsalves insisted Akshay should be in the squad," a VCA source told TOI.

Akshay didn't disappoint. He is currently the leading run-scorer for Vidarbha with 357 runs at an average of 39.67 and has scored five fifties in challenging conditions in Jaipur and Hyderabad. The fact that he has outscored the likes of Kale and Siddhesh Wath speaks about his talent and the contribution he has made for the team.

Akshay wasn't the first choice in the playing XI, but after losing a couple of matches initially, the Vidarbha team management included him. He scored fifty on his Vidarbha debut. Later, when Vidarbha top order was struggling, Akshay was asked to open. He accepted the challenge and has scored three fifties in the last four matches, including a fighting 67 against Punjab in the semifinal.

"He has always been very passionate about the game. Despite not breaking into the team, the thought of quitting the game never crossed his mind. We knew he had the talent. It was just a question of translating into consistent performances. I am happy that his performances have helped the team reach this far. Hopefully, Vidarbha win the title," Akshay's father Gulab Dullarwar told TOI on Thursday.

It wasn't easy for the senior Dullarwar either. He had to take his son to Pravin Hinganikar Cricket Academy, around 10km from their residence at Friends Colony, for training and coaching till he got the driving licence. "Once Hinganikar sir told me that he wouldn't have done the same. I knew he would get right training there. It was Hinganikar sir who transformed his career," said Dullarwar, a social worker who runs a school for specially-abled children.

During a Guzder League ‘C' Division game, PHCA-run Lipton Club had lost six seven wickets in the final. The victory was important to Lipton Club for promotion in the ‘B' Division next year. Akshay showed great composure while batting with former Vidarbha and Railways stumper Sudhir Wankhede and took his team home.

"Hinganikar sir was watching that match and he asked Akshay to focus more on his batting," he added.

Akshay took Hinganikar's advice seriously and worked very hard on his batting. "Earlier, he would play too many shots too soon. Now, he gives himself some time. It's paying off for him," one of his coaches in PHCA said.

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