Father's dream, mother's fight shape Atharva's flight

Left arm spinner Atharva Ankolekar has had a long and hard journey to the top

“More dreams are realised and extinguished in Bombay than any other place in India,” Gregory David Roberts, the popular Australian author, had once said. In the bylanes of Govind wadi, Vinod Ankolekar too had a dream. The conductor at the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST) wanted to see his son become an international cricketer.

It was a classic case of a father wanting his son to realise his unfulfilled dream. For any budding cricketer, making it big in Mumbai -- India’s cricketing hub – is a big test. The dream appeared to have been crushed even before it took wings for the young Atharva Ankolekar when his father passed away following a bout of malaria. It’s never easy to recuperate after you lose your biggest strength and your first guide at a tender age of eight.

But the untimely death didn’t deter either his mother, who was resilient in the face of a great personal loss, or himself. Fast forward to the present-day and Atharva has taken the first step towards the big India call-up. The 18-year-old bowling all-rounder powered India to their seventh U-19 Asia Cup title in a thrilling title clash. At the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo, Atharva, with his left-arm spin, picked up 5/28 to help India defend 106 and clinch a five-run win over Bangladesh.  

Not once did Atharva doubt his gifted skills. What he craved for was support and belief from people around him. However, when you are exposed to extreme poverty, hope is all you have to cling on to. “I dread to think of those days,” tells Vaidehi, Atharva’s mother. “My husband’s pension was just Rs 2500. I would ran tuition for children in our slum but they wouldn’t pay the fee on time. Very soon, my in-laws had a huge problem with me because I wasn’t earning enough money. The regular clashes with them took a toll on me,” she recollects.

Soon, Vaidehi was thrown into an unfamiliar world. She, along with her two sons, was shunted out of the house. Living in a tiny house in Andheri (East), Vaidehi went through the struggles of being a single mother. Faced with financial crunch, she asked her son a big question. “My younger son was in Pre-Kg. I had to make ends meet by taking tuitions. So, I asked Atharva whether he wants to make a life out of cricket or is he seeing the game just as a hobby,” she says.

Atharva’s answer has taken him to where he is today. “Mujhe mere papa ka sapna poora karna hai (I want to fulfil my father’s dream),” he had told his mother. Cricket was to provide an escape for Atharva. He showed great maturity in staying focused on the game and curbing other desires that children of his age usually have.

Vaidehi also had to be careful of the fact that the dire situation at home, which often saw fight between her and relatives, didn’t take a toll on his sensitive mind.     

“When there were fights in my family, Atharva would get affected a lot. He would go out in fear and at home, he wouldn’t talk much. In a way, playing cricket daily was good for him. Even after we were forced to move out, I wanted him to stay out most of the time. I didn’t want him to feel bad at our plight and sacrifice his ambition. And as I worked hard, my son never let me down. He never demanded anything expensive and remained grounded. Mere bête ne mera saath diya (My son stood by me),” she explains.

Producing impressive shows at the zonal level consistently, Atharva grabbed the attention of State selectors. After he made the Mumbai U-14 side, there has been no looking back for him. Prashant Shetty, his coach at the MIG Cricket club, calls him a street-smart cricketer.

“The first thing that stood out in him was his hunger to succeed. Considering the background he came from, he had no other option but to work hard. He may not come across as the most talented player of his age group but he knows how to get wickets and he knows how to get runs. I think, at the end of the day, that’s all matters. He is also a great captain and an excellent finisher with the bat,” Prashant tells DH.

Vaidehi has now taken up her husband’s job. Working as a conductor at the BEST depot in Marol, she is confident of helping her son realise his bigger dreams. For now, she is forever thankful to people who supported her. “His school Parle Tilak Vidyalaya took care of his fee and his coaches Prashant, Arup Pai, Nilesh Patwardhan, Diwakar Shetty, Suren Ahire and many others backed him to the hilt. I am sure my son will go on to play for India one day,” she says.

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