Like most others in the country, tennis-ball cricket in the lanes outside his house was the origin of Darshan Nalkande’s cricketing journey.
Growing up with a wicketkeeper-batter brother at home in Akola, it is quite perceivable why Nalkande took to bowling. After taking to leather-ball cricket at the age of nine, the 25-year-old graduated through Vidarbha’s age group categories, right from the U13 to U19 before making the senior team in 2018.
The promising right-arm medium-fast bowler has now cemented his presence in the domestic circuit and has impressed enough to be retained by Indian Premier League (IPL) side Gujarat Titans ahead of the IPL 2024 player auction.
The quick bowler’s first experience in the IPL came in the 2019 edition, being picked by the Punjab Kings for INR 30 lakh, overcoming competition from the Rajasthan Royals. However, he did not get a single game across the 2019 and 2020 editions. The Titans picked Nalkande for his base price of INR 20 lakh in the 2022 auction.
He has played thrice in the IPL so far for the Titans, across the 2022 and 2023 seasons, picking up three wickets. In the IPL 2022 game between the Kings and the Titans in Mumbai, he picked two for 37, dismissing Vidarbha teammate Jitesh Sharma and Odean Smith off successive deliveries.
The match is etched in folklore thanks to Rahul Tewatia’s heroics, smashing two sixes, with twelve needed from the last two balls.
Nalkande credits his IPL experience for the growth in his bowling over the last two years. “The atmosphere in the Gujarat Titans team is really nice. I have learnt a lot from Ashish Nehra over the last two years,” Nalkande told Sportstar.
“Even in the camp held two weeks back, Nehra sir gave some tips on how to bowl, which I am trying to implement during the domestic season. I am now bowling in the areas that are my strength.”
He also had words of appreciation for outgoing Titans skipper Hardik Pandya. “He’s so cool and calm. He lets you do what you are thinking. The roles are obviously decided before the match, but he gives you a free hand during the games which is the kind of backing every bowler needs,” he said.
On a cold, dull morning in Jaipur on Monday, Nalkande steamed through Maharashtra’s lower middle-order during the Vijay Hazare trophy game, recording his first List A five-wicket haul in his 24th game.
“I wasn’t expecting to get a fifer today. I was only focussing on what delivery I should bowl next,” the pacer said.
“The team has given me a role and I was only looking to execute what the team needed from me at that point,” he said.
Nalkande’s craftiness was on show at the KL Saini Stadium when the quick bowler foxed the well-set Ankeet Bawne using a full slower ball, trapping him in front.
With new batters coming in and a hint of reverse swing on offer, the pacer went back to the basics, bowling quick deliveries at the top of off-stump, bowling out three batters in the space of six balls.
Nalkande says being part of an experienced bowling group at Vidarbha has positively impacted his performance.
Regular India Test cap Umesh Yadav and Rajneesh Gurbani, the highest-wicket taker for the team during its victorious 2017/18 Ranji Trophy season, are the senior pros in the squad. Yash Thakur, retained by Lucknow Super Giants in the IPL, is one of the most highly-rated young quicks in the country.
“Communication between the bowlers helps improve the performance of the team and the individual. For example, Yash was at mid-off giving me tips on what to bowl after seeing that the ball was reversing a bit,” Nalkande said.
“Umesh bhai has been with the team the last two seasons. Speaking to him I get more clarity about the plans and what to execute on the field,” he added.
Nalkande is listed as an all-rounder on the IPL website. He scored a 30-ball 56 on his Vijay Hazare Trophy debut against Maharashtra in Alur in 2018 but has seen limited opportunities come his way since to display his batting potential.
The 25-year-old has set his eyes on an elusive limited-overs trophy, hoping to contribute with ball and bat for Vidarbha this season.
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