A door closes, another opens for Kunal Kapoor

After a stop-start journey to his first-class career, the batsman from Bengaluru decided that a new path awaited him. He is now the assistant coach for Karnataka Premier League side Belagavi Panthers.

Kunal Kapoor admits he missed playing cricket.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Kunal Kapoor couldn’t have asked for a better start to his first-class career. Playing in just his third Ranji Trophy match - back in January 2013 - Kunal scored 106 and 100 not-out against Haryana in Hubballi. He became the first cricketer from the State to score a century in both innings of a Ranji Trophy match.

“After hitting those two centuries, I harboured many dreams and goals. The most important goal was to cement a long-term place in the Karnataka side,” Kunal says.

But it wasn’t to be. After that record-breaking outing in Hubballi, Kunal only managed to make 14 more first-class appearances, the last of which came three years ago. Kunal is the first to admit that he has not lived up to the huge potential he showed as a rookie.

New direction

Being in and out of the Karnataka squad took a toll on Kunal’s confidence. When he was not picked in the State squad for the 2017-18 season, the Bengaluru lad, only 30, decided to move in a new direction. He gained a Level 1 Coaching certificate, and also completed a strength and conditioning certification program. A couple of months ago, Kunal took on the role of a assistant coach for KPL side Belagavi Panthers.

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Kunal states that it has been over six months since he has picked up a bat. “It was an extremely tough decision. I miss playing cricket a lot. A lot of my teammates were surprised. (Friends Union Cricket Club teammate) B. Akhil told me that I was too young to stop. Akhil reminded me that he is still playing in the KPL at the age of 40. But if I’m not playing for Karnataka, it greatly reduces the motivation to continue. I don't want to play in the KPL when I don't have the chance to make it to the Karnataka team. It's better to step aside and give a youngster the chance to play,” Kunal says.

Kunal, a technically-sound batsman with a calm presence at the crease, explains that his inability to record big scores cost him dear. After the twin successes at Hubballi, Kunal was unable to add another century to his name. “After the Hubballi fixture, I made 30 on a flat
track against Maharashtra. I should have gotten a 200 there. Also, I made 49 against Jharkhand (Mysuru, 2013) and 57 against Gujarat (2013). If I had converted these fifties into big ones, my career could have been in a different place,” Kunal says.

Kunal mentions that he did not become a complete batsman until after he returned from stints in England and Australia. But by then, it was too late to make an impression. “I learnt how to prepare and execute an innings at the age of 28, after I went to play club cricket in
England and Australia. I came back to Bengaluru better than ever, but
it didn’t work out,” he says.

‘Unique combination’

Along the way, he did consider moving to another State, but opportunities were few. “Karnataka guys who played for other States - like Robin Uthappa, Ganesh Satish and Amit Verma - were all experienced players. I had 17 caps, so States were hesitant to bring
me on board,” Kunal says.

He hasn’t yet given up on the dream to make a comeback. “With new teams coming into the Ranji Trophy fold, I have a chance of representing one of these teams next season. Fitness is not an issue for me; it’s matter of getting into the batting groove,” Kunal, who
has featured in four List-A and two Twenty20 matches for Karnataka, says.

As for his immediate future, Kunal is keen to make a success of his new career. “I want to open a sports facility to train athletes. I’m a strength and conditioning coach who has played first-class cricket - a unique combination. I hope to get more coaching assignments as well," he says.

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