Akshay Wakhare is a 32-year-old bowler who plays for Vidarbha in the domestic circuit. He has bagged 204 wickets in just 59 First Class matches. Furthermore, he played a vital role in taking his team to the Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, Wakhare talks about his cricketing experience with Vidarbha and Mumbai Indians.
How does it feel to be the champions of the Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup?
Wakhare: The feeling is very very special. When your team claims the highest honor in domestic cricket, it gives you "on top of the world" feeling. I can't put the happiness in words. I am just proud of the way we played cricket last season. I am delighted to have been a part of the team that created history in Indian circuit.
The best thing was that youngsters adapted well to every situation. They were guided by seniors like Faiz Fazal, Ganesh Satish, Wasim Jaffer and myself, and their response was fantastic. It was a combined effort of seniors and juniors that clicked in every match and made us the champions.
The stand-out performer was Rajneesh Gurbani. The pacer took wickets when it was needed the most. It helped the spinners including myself to capitalize themselves. To be very frank, when I think of the day when the trophy was in our hand, I still get goosebumps.
What prompted you to choose cricket as your career? Who has supported you the most during your ups and downs?
Wakhare: On one fine day when I was in Class 10 in CP and Berar School in Nagpur, I had a history lecture to attend. I was not keen on attending the lecture. Fortunately, on the same day, there were cricket trials for the school team. I decided to appear for trials to bunk the lecture. That decision to appear for trails gave an accidental start to my cricket journey.
Earlier, I bowled medium pace because of the height factor but I was rejected. Then I opted for spin and found my calling. Thereafter, I went on to play in each team of each age group in following years before entering domestic circuit (Ranji Trophy) at the age of 21. Looking at this series of events, I was meant for playing cricket.
It's my dada (brother) Anand who has supported me during my ups and downs. Just like a toddler leans on the shoulder of his mother, I seek Anand's help and advice in everything. It is not just in tough times but also in good times. I would have been nothing if Anand's support wouldn't have been there along with God's blessings.
You were signed up by Mumbai Indians in 2015. How was your experience with them?
Wakhare: My experience with Mumbai Indians has really helped me in improving my thought process. It has taught me on how to better channelize my game during tense situations. The way Mumbai Indians mentors and coaches keep everyone on their toes was worth mesmerizing. Such moral boosting sessions are crucial in T20 format. I feel IPL can be a fantastic experience for a domestic cricketer to develop every nuance of the game on and off the field.
Apart from the great learning curve, I have another precious memory of holding IPL trophy with the legendary Sachin Tendulkar. Tendulkar sir's presence is enough to boost the confidence of anyone. His presence would inspire us so much that everyone used to come out with their best show. It was just amazing. Even the presence of Ricky Ponting, Shane Bond, Robin Singh and others did wonders.
Mumbai Indians consisted of stars like Rohit Sharma, Kieron Pollard, Harbhajan Singh, Lasith Malinga etc. How did the presence of these players help you in improvising your game?
Wakhare: To be very frank, all these international players were like financial advisers for investors. Whenever I used to ask them an advice on anything, they had a solution for it. The amazing part was everyone was helpful and jovial.
I learnt a lot from India's most successful offspinner Harbhajan Singh. It was precious to practice the off-spin art from the legend himself. That was the best part and I can't forget his inputs to better my skills.
What was noticeable was the focus of all the international players before any game. The manner in which they shift their focus from 'fun-time' to full determination was just excellent. Apart from cricket, the way these players do small activities in a professional manner was a vital thing I learnt. The set-up the Mumbai Indians had was just inspiring. I'm thankful to the team management for selecting me for 2 consecutive seasons.
Wasim Jaffer has been the all-time leading run scorer in the Ranji Trophy. How has his presence created a healthy atmosphere in the team?
Wakhare: Wasim Bhai is just awesome. He is a super person and a super cricketer. He has a calming effect on everyone around him. I like to talk to him as he always has a unique experience to share, which can give any cricketer a different perspective to look at certain things in life or certain match situations.
I was with him for last three years since he came to play for Vidarbha. Since he is the king of the domestic circuit, he has a solution to every situation. Not only this, he is an inspiration to all the team members on and off the field.
The hunger he has for scoring runs and playing cricket is unbelievable. His undying desire for playing at such an age is certainly inspirational for every cricketer. The way he batted this season was simply fascinating. I feel lucky to work with him so closely.
During our Ranji Campaign last year, he was the one who played his role as on-field mentor. He was on his toes to keep every player charged up. Whenever we got time, Wasim Bhai called us in a huddle and made us believe, especially juniors, that we can still win. The best part was everyone in the team believed in him. Every team member has immense respect for him.
When batsmen are in trouble, they look for Wasim bhai. Whenever bowlers are in trouble, they look for Wasim Bhai. It is not just about technique but more about mental toughness and self-belief. He made us believe in ourselves and that 'little belief' changed the Vidarbha cricket.
What role has the former Indian spinner, Rajesh Chauhan played in your life?
Wakhare: The meeting with Rajesh Chauhan was again accidental. I was playing Under-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy and Chauhan sir had come to witness our match as Talent Research Development Officer (TRDO) from NCA. He was very famous off-spinner in India back then. I straightaway went to him during the break for advice. There on, the interaction between us started and I began visiting him in Bhilai to learn the basics from him. I am thankful to him that he took out time for me from his busy schedule to teach me every minute detail of the bowling. His contribution to my career has been immense.
If Chauhan sir was instrumental in junior cricketing years, Narendra Hirwani sir has given me timely guidance and helped me in graduating to Ranji Trophy. I feel lucky that I found right people at right time. I am indebted to both the stalwart coaches from the Central Zone.
There are various young cricketers who are frustrated due to lack of opportunities. What piece of advice would you like to give to them?
Wakhare: I have a very simple message for youngsters. Youngsters need to work harder but their efforts should be in right direction. They need to be patient and ready for grabbing the chances with both the hands. My mantra is: "To make the most of available opportunities. A player needs to stay calm and believe in himself. This will fetch good results." Apart from that, a player should keep in mind that he needs to put an identical effort like an academic scholar. Students never get disheartened if they score fewer marks in exams.
Likewise, a player should not get disheartened if he doesn't perform to his expectations. One bad day can't decide your career. There is always a chance for improvement. Be ready to perform at your best in the next match. Players need to just keep one thing in mind: They love the game that's why they are playing. Hence, they should not take pressure for performing. They should just go, stay calm and express themselves in the best possible way.