Against all odds: How Atharva Ankolekar, son of a bus conductor, became India U-19’s match-winner

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Author 2019-09-17 17:00:23

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Vaidehi Ankolekar is a bus conductor in Mumbai. Her job begins in the depot and ends with the bus ride. She doesn’t bring her work home, unlike many others in the city. Yet, on Saturday, September 14, after coming home from her duty, she spent a lot of time on her phone, to an extent that the battery was completely drained out.

The barrage of calls had nothing to do with matters in the bus or the depot, though. It was the effect of happenings in faraway Colombo. Her son Atharva Ankolekar, an all-rounder in the India U-19 cricket team, had spun a web around the Bangladesh batting line-up, taking a five-for and helping India defend a paltry 106 to lift the U-19 Asia Cup title.

Well-wishers, relatives, and journalists scampered to get in touch with Vaidehi, the proud mother of a national hero.

Atharva and Vaidehi’s moment in the sun had come after a long period of hard work, persistence and a great deal of agony. Groomed and trained by his father in his early years as a cricketer, Atharva lost his guiding light at the age of nine. His father passed away with Atharva still a long way away from his goal.

A BEST employee in the supply department, the late Vinod Ankolekar was a local cricketer himself. But he wanted his son to go far beyond that. To fuel his dreams, Atharva’s father worked in the night shift to keep himself available to aid Atharva during the day-time.

“His father was determined to make him a top cricketer. He took a night shift so that he could take Atharva to coach in the morning. He stood there observing his son train and then in the evening after coming home played with him to make sure he implemented what was taught to him in the coaching session. After that, he left for his work at 10 pm in the night. He had dedicated all his life for his kids,” Vaidehi told Scroll.in.

After his father’s death, Atharva didn’t lose focus his goal which his father had set for him. In fact, his resolve became stronger.

“He was determined to fulfill his father’s dreams after he passed away. He kept training and working hard. His performances improved and Parle Tilak Vidyalaya, who had a strong cricket team, asked him to join the school to be a part of their team. So, he shifted there to develop his game,” Vaidehi added.

Taking coaching at the PTVA Sports academy, Atharva flourished, going on to captain the school team in the years to come. It was just the beginning for the youngster.

Earning a reputation for his game while playing for his school, he was selected for the MIG Cricket club team. He also represented Mumbai U-14 and helped them win the final by scoring a century in the match.

Soon, a place in the U-17 Mumbai team followed. Now, he captains the Mumbai U-19 team and has already represented the U-23 team.

He has been part of five national camps so far and after his heroics with the Indian U-19 team, there’s only one target now in mind for the youngster.

“Of course, he has always wanted to play for India and now after this performance, his aim will be to break into the senior team. I have full belief that Atharva will get there one day,” Vaidehi said.

There were more hands involved in shaping this prodigy. His mother’s limited income meant there was always huge strain on their meager resources to sustain his cricketing ambitions. But realising his potential, his coaches selflessly took up the responsibility.

“His school coaches Suren Ayre, Diwakar Shetty, Nilesh Patwardhan and Prashant Shetty of MIG helped us with everything. Atharva would not have been where he is today without his coaches. For me, they are like God,” Vaidehi exclaimed.

“Coach Aru Pai at the PTVA academy supported him the most. He used to take him home after training, feed him and also drop him at the practice in the evening. During Diwali, he gave him gifts and bought crackers for him. I can never forget how people have chipped in to make sure Atharva’s growth as a cricketer never stopped,” she added.

On Saturday afternoon, the left-arm off-spinner bamboozled the Bangladeshi batsmen with his impeccable variations. Some were deceived by the flight, some by variations in pace, and some by the sheer turn, Atharva’s spell at the Premadasa was symbolic of his life and the way he had adapted with the various challenges it threw at him.

As he chipped away with the Bangladeshi wickets, celebrations broke at the various households that had played a part in his journey. It was time to rejoice their leap of faith in a boy with nothing else than potential. It was time to celebrate the culmination of the journey achieved against all odds and perhaps the start of a new one too.

“His coaches were the first people I called up today. The joy was boundless. It is a great day for all of us,” Vaidehi concluded.

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