Where on the earth is Warne’s Future Star?
Salunkhe had once stunned Indian off-spinner Ramesh Powar; sources say that was at least four years ago. In a local match, the little-known player stepped up and whacked a delivery from the seasoned campaigner out of the park. The ball traveled quite a distance; to measure which, one would have to take a walk from the Parsi Gymkhana pitch in Mumbai to the railway tracks on the other side.
But this is insignificant and has been forgotten even by those present there that day. Not that Salunkhe will complain. He took longer strides, went on to earn accolades from none other than Shane Warne. For a year everything seemed to fall in place for him. Warne’s future ‘star’ of Indian cricket shone brightly under floodlights, but then suddenly, as if someone had absent-mindedly pushed the wrong button on the switchboard, Salunkhe was staring at obscurity.
The Mumbai-born player’s elevation from rags to riches isn’t a fairytale, and it’s sad that it isn’t. It had all the ingredients: Salunkhe hailed from one those families in Mumbai, who in their waking dreams see their thoughts elope through the various leakages on the thin, unattractive roofs of their houses.
He lost his father the age of 10, leaving his mother to look after three children alone. His elder brother grew up to shoulder his mother’s burden. Naresh, also, played some cricket — he still does — but couldn’t grow beyond his club in Matunga. Dinesh Salunkhe started out for the same club, but caught the eyes of Sanjay Patil, a former Rajni player for Mumbai who now works with the selection committee.
However, the flip of fortune happened later. In late 2006, Cricket Star, India’s first reality show based on cricket came into being. Zee TV and Doordashan aired the first season, and among the younger contestants 24-year-old Dinesh Salunkhe was also a face.
The cricketer admits cricket did not excite him until he saw the likes of Kapil Dev and Geoffrey Boycott on the panel of judges. Salunkhe, who bowls leg-break apart from being a hard-hitting batsman, finished as the Man-of-the-Series. His coach at the Karnataka Sports Association, Satish Samant recounts, “He didn’t have much class,” but, “he had the desire to win.”
A scholarship followed as reward for his performance, he got a chance to train with English County side Leicestershire’s second XI. From the eight games he played for two clubs there, he returned with 287 runs and 28 wickets.
The talent scouts at the Rajasthan Royals had earmarked him as early as during his Cricket Star days. He was drafted in for the first season of the Indian Premier League. It helped that Royals were least glamorous outfit in the tournament; it helped further that the team was led by Warne.
Warne converted a team of nobodies into a cluster of stars. That sweetshop vendor from Kolkata knew who Swapnil Asnodkar was; it was insignificant that he hailed from Goa. Mumbai’s dabbawallahs never muddled Ravindra Jadeja with Ajay Jadeja. Whole of India cheered for Yusuf knowing/not knowing that he was the brother of Irfan Pathan.
Salunkhe made his debut against Delhi Daredevils in his team’s first match. He hit the first delivery from Rajat Bhatia through the third man to fence, scored an inspiring 26 off 20 balls, but his team ended up losing the match by seven wickets. In the next match, he had a larger task in hand. He was bowling in tandem with his skipper whom grew up idolizing. But he did not let his emotions take over. “Put your chest out, stand tall, be confident and I believe you can get him. Tell me you can do it,” were Warne’s words to him. What language it was spoken in we don’t know. What we know is that off the third legitimate delivery of the over he got Mahela Jayawardene stumped. The delivery had enough flight for Warne to claim for it to be his own. Post the match, Warne told the press, “Believe me, with the kind of talent Ravindra Jadeja and Dinesh Salunkhe have shown, they are going to be superstars in the near future.”
Rajasthan Royals went on to win the tournament, but that was that for Salunkhe. He didn’t get selected for the semi-final or the final. In his next two innings, of the six matches he played, he could add only seven more runs and not a single more wicket. He was done away with in the next season, citing poor performance as reason. How and why in such short span of time did the touted star go back to anonymity remains a mystery. What mechanism goes into gauging stardom in the IPL is a question that doesn’t demand human contact.
ESPNcricinfo in their article published halfway through the league noted the player “is yet to play a first-class match”, and that fact stands firm till today. He was never selected by Mumbai or for that matter any other first-class side of this country.
The last mention of him I could gather is in a Hindustan Times article done immediately after his axe from the IPL. The article talks more about his caller tune than the player himself and is immersed in clichés like “my heart will always remain with Rajasthan Royals.” The only time Salunkhe makes us ponder is in his confusion. “Nothing seems to go well with selection, be it for Mumbai or Rajasthan Royals.”