From U-19 heartbreak to Vidarbha stalwart: The tale of Akshay Wadkar (Exclusive)
Back in December 2017, Delhi and Vidarbha locked horns in Indore with a Ranji Trophy crown at stake. The former, who had won many a similar accolade, seemed much better equipped, courtesy their title-winning pedigree over the years whereas the latter was hoping to quench its thirst for a maiden triumph.
Batting first, the northern side huffed and puffed its way to 295, courtesy a sublime century by Dhruv Shorey. In reply, though Vidarbha started adeptly, they found themselves in a slight spot of bother at 206-4 and later, at 237-5.
At that juncture, despite the presence of Wasim Jaffer, Vidarbha looked in danger of conceding a first-innings lead, meaning that they would have then had to play catch-up for the rest of the encounter.
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Yet, over the course of the next couple of days, they found their Guardian Angel, a Messiah born and brought up through Nagpur’s cricketing circles. And, that final against Delhi ultimately went on to signify the arrival of Akshay Wadkar.
Having made his First-Class debut earlier in the season, the wicket-keeper, prior to the clutch clash, had often popped up with crucial runs lower down the order. However, he took his run-scoring exploits a notch higher when confronted with the most adverse of circumstances.
Wadkar went on to craft a masterful ton, an innings of 133 that catapulted Vidarbha to a 252-run first-innings lead. Eventually, that laid the foundation for a thumping 9-wicket victory, thereby helping them carve out a distinguished niche for themselves in Indian cricketing folklore.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the wicket-keeper shed light on that particular essay, remarking the aspects that enabled him to flourish.
I was batting with Wasim [Jaffer] bhaiya and he told me that there was nothing happening in the middle and that the ball was coming straight on. I played and missed a couple of deliveries from Khejroliya but because of the confidence Wasim bhaiya gave me, I was able to compose myself and play a long innings.
Additionally, Wadkar also identified the immense work Chandrakant Pandit had put in over the past couple of seasons. The wicket-keeper talked about how the veteran always stresses on concentration and enhancing the finer nuances of one’s game.
The innings at Indore though, despite being perceived by many as a pure anomaly, became a rather recurring trend in 2018 and 2019, wherein the right-handed batsman conjured several substantial contributions with the willow.
In fact, Vidarbha skipper, Faiz Fazal, even termed him as the outfit’s crisis man and one capable of grafting his way out of trouble when push comes to shove. On being asked what facets allow him to act as Vidarbha’s perennial savior, Wadkar modestly replied,
I am fortunate to have played such innings. I always keep my team’s interests first and don’t think about individual runs. That takes a lot of pressure off me and then I am able to play according to the situation. Also, I treat every innings as my last, meaning that it takes the pressure off me more.
Moreover, the wicket-keeper opened up on how he also possesses the propensity to evaluate a particular phase in the game and then evolve a sufficient mechanism to emerge unscathed. He quipped,
Sometimes, I feel in certain circumstances, you also have to outwit the bowler. For example, against Delhi in the 2017-18 final, I knew that if I frustrated the bowlers at the start, I would get opportunities to score later. And, that worked out pretty well.
Despite portraying himself as a batsman boasting tons of patience, Wadkar has also showcased the ability to dominate the spinners, a fact emphasized by another stellar batting display against Bengal recently. He commented,
Even in the Nagpur local leagues, I bat a lot in the middle order and that helps me play spin well. So, in my second season, I looked to dominate them more and it helped me in my batting.
Thus, on the basis of the previous two seasons, one would be led to term Wadkar’s career as a success, wherein he has swatted away every challenge in front of him. Yet, akin to many a cricketer, the wicket-keeper also had to endure his fair share of heartbreak, especially early in his cricketing journey.
After being short-listed for the India U-19 camp, which included the likes of Ankush Bains, Axar Patel, Sanju Samson and Shreyas Iyer, the lad from Nagpur was diagnosed with dengue, meaning that he couldn’t take part and chart the upward trajectory that some of the others have managed to.
However, that particular set-back seems to have instilled a sense of drive and hunger that remains unparalleled across the domestic circuit. To put things into perspective, Wadkar averages 54.03 in 27 First Class matches, which incidentally, is a much higher tally than the likes of Ishan Kishan and Samson, whereas it is just a shade under what Rishabh Pant has produced.
Yet, irrespective of whether Wadkar is amassing truckloads of runs, the wicket-keeper hardly wants to get ahead of himself. Though he admitted that representing India remains a dream, he was insistent on preparing for the upcoming challenge rather than venturing into dreamland and foregoing his primary responsibilities.
Thus, over the course of an illuminating conversation, Wadkar highlighted the elements that had enabled him to establish himself as an extremely vital cog in the Vidarbha wheel.
A portrait of grit and perseverance, the wicket-keeper, courtesy his attribute of adapting to the situation, also underlined a feature that perplexingly flies under the radar quite a bit, even as different forms of cricket place such demands on cricketers.
Most tellingly though, Wadkar, in his brief domestic career, has shown the proclivity to not back down from a challenge and rather relish situations that force one to dig deep into one’s reserves and unfurl something spectacular.
Years ago, the withdrawal from the U-19 camp dangerously flirted with the prospect of another talent going waste. Yet, in consonance with his tenacious personality, he returned a man possessed and one hoping to make up for lost time.
So far, he has lent plenty of weight to that particular notion and in the process, it has coincided with Vidarbha’s quest to conquer the Indian domestic circuit.
And, knowing Wadkar, nothing would’ve pleased him more than his side’s domestic dominance, would it?
Published 15 Jan 2020, 15:04 IST