When Mumbai Indians raised the baton for Kulwant Khejroliya at the 2017 IPL auction, not many were aware of the name. It came as a surprise to most of the fans as the player who was picked by one of the top franchises at the auction hadn’t played a single game for his home state of Rajasthan, or Delhi, where he grew up as a cricketer.
Six days later, though, the 25-year-old made his List A debut for Delhi and caught everyone’s attention in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Though Delhi failed to qualify for the quarter-finals, Khejroliya had a memorable debut season that saw him pick 17 wickets from seven matches at an average of just over 18 and an economy of 4.79. His performances proved that the move to buy him was a masterstroke by the Mumbai think-tank.
He started playing cricket about a year ago and made sure that his family didn’t know that he was pursuing a career in the sport. He worked as a waiter in Goa and when his family needed money, he lied to his parents, stating that he was going to work with his friend in Ahmedabad but instead, moved to Delhi, where he trained at the LB Shastri club, a club that gave life to players like Gautam Gambhir, Unmukt Chand and Nitish Rana.
Speaking about his background, he said, “I only started playing cricket about a year ago. Before that, I was a waiter at a restaurant in Goa. I didn't tell my family that I was playing cricket. I wasn't good at studies. I took a number of competitive exams but couldn't get through anywhere.
“We needed money at home and my family wanted me to get a job. I didn't know what to do. A friend of mine told me that I have the talent to make it as a cricketer. So I told my family that I was joining a friend's transport business in Ahmedabad, but I went to Delhi instead.
“In Delhi, I got a break at the LB Shastri club, which has given birth to players like Gautam Gambhir, Unmukt Chand and Nitish Rana. I didn't even have proper shoes with spikes back then. The coach, Mr. Sanjay Bharadwaj, asked me about my shoes and I told him the story.
“He then got me into a hostel where a lot of other budding cricketers stay. I moved in and started working really hard. I would spend all day on the ground and then evenings at the gym. Whatever I am today, is because of him. He treated me like his own son and gave me a lot of support.
“If I hadn't made something of my life, I would have had a lot to answer for. But now that I have made it here (Mumbai Indians in the IPL), folks back in my village and in my district are happy and proud of me.”
Unfortunately, Khejroliya didn’t get to play a single match for the two-time IPL champions as he faced stiff competition from other world class performers. In spite of that, it is safe to say that the Rajasthan-born pacer has made giant strides in a short time and if he continues to perform the way he has, he is likely to go places in the future.Published 19 May 2017, 18:08 IST