In the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL), when most of the Indian players were trying to figure out the formula to success, a diminutive wicketkeeper-batsman from Goa made all heads turn.
Swapnil Asnodkar was a raw talent, who could adapt to the T20 conditions quite fast. Playing for the Rajasthan Royals, Asnodkar impressed the cricketing fraternity,scoring 311 runs at a strike rate of 133.47. With team captain Shane Warne praising the youngster, he was considered the next big thing in Indian cricket.
It’s been 12 years since and Asnodkar still cherishes those memories. “That was an amazing experience. Playing under Warne was a big opportunity for a youngster like me and it was a learning experience,” Asnodkar told Sportstar from his home in Porvorim.
Back then, IPL was a new ball game and for the rookie domestic cricketers, it was an exciting journey -- training with the superstars of the game, hanging out with them and also picking up a tip or two.
“It was a new thing for us, and quite exciting. Training under Warne, Graeme Smith, Shane Watson was a big thing for me and I still have great memories…” he said, walking down the memory lane.
But things fizzled out in the following seasons as he could only pick up 112 runs in 11 matches.
The poor form, which prolonged a bit, was enough to end Asnodkar’s dream run.
“I still don’t know what went wrong. Once I hit the rough patch, I asked Warnie (Warne) about how I could improve my game. He assured me of all help, but that never happened,” Asnodkar said.
However, he has no regrets. “Perhaps, this is all I deserved,” he said, adding that may be one more chance could have revived his IPL career. But then, in the fast lanes of the slam-bang cricket league, a second chance is as elusive as it gets.
“It was very difficult to deal with the situation. It was frustrating, because from being a talked about cricketer, you were suddenly in middle of nowhere. As a person, I had to accept it and move on,” he said.
To add to his woes, Asnodkar -- who was then the Goa captain -- suffered a major blow as his name cropped up in the match-fixing controversy in the 2010-2011 season. Though he came out clean, the Goan cricketer fell out of favour.
“It was perhaps the toughest phase of my career. People were after me, but I knew that I had done no wrong. But then, who would make the people realise that? No matter what you did, they would doubt you. It was very painful for me and the family to deal with it.”
He had no job, and his only source of income was cricket. Once the Goa Cricket Association banned him from all cricketing activities -- which was eventually lifted in November, 2011 -- Asnodkar found it difficult to make ends meet. “If such a thing would have happened when I was 34 or 35, things would been very difficult. But since I was relatively young, I could still fight back. I knew I was right and just waited for a chance…”
A chance, however, came his way soon and Asnodkar was brought back to the Ranji Trophy squad. However, an IPL offer didn’t come his way, never again. The batsman was quite consistent till the seniors, including him and Shadab Jakati, were dropped by Goa in 2018. It was another challenging time.
“It was tough. I was out of the game for a while. Being away from the game wasn’t helping me mentally and physically. So, gradually, I decided to call it a day and took up coaching…” Asnodkar said.
Last year, he silently retired from the game and took charge as the coach of the Goa U-23 team. “It’s been a good experience so far. It has taken me a bit of time to get into this zone. But at times, it still feels as if I am in my playing days. In the nets, when the guys practice, even I go and do a few knock. That helps me…”
Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for the 36-year-old, and now, as he dons the coach’s hat, Asnodkar makes it a point to give a reality check to his wards. “That’s the job of a coach,” he said.
For the last few weeks, as the country is witnessing a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, Asnodkar has been spending time with wife and daughter. These are rare breaks for a coach, but even now, the memories of IPL 2008 keep flowing in. At times, they make him laugh and there are moments of gloom.
Twelve years on, Swapnil Asnodkar is slowly coming to terms with it.
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