Mumbai: Less than 24 hours after the Mumbai Cricket Association’s (MCA) Managing Committee ended Sulakshan Kulkarni’s tenure as coach of the Mumbai team, he displayed no signs of anger or disappointment with the MCA’s decision. Sitting in the airy living room at his residence in Goregaon, Kulkarni appeared calm and composed when MiD DAY caught up with him yesterday. Excerpts:
Sulakshan Kulkarni explains a point at his residence yesterday. Pic/Nimesh Dave
Your reaction to being replaced as Mumbai coach...
I am not surprised. I expected it, but I did not think it would happen immediately. Generally, such decisions are taken once a proper assessment is done after the season. In fact, I had told MCA vice-president Ravi Savant in September that this would be my last season
irrespective of the result.
Did you expect the axe to fall after losing the Ranji Trophy quarter-final?
It is Mumbai cricket’s culture that nothing less than the Ranji Trophy is expected every season, which is a great attitude to have. If Mumbai don’t win, it is big news. Winning the Ranji Trophy is very precious for Mumbai. There are reasons why I am not surprised: In 1996, Balvinder Singh Sandhu was the first professional coach the MCA appointed. I was still playing for Mumbai when he became the coach. He had an incredible record, winning 33 matches out of 35. In spite of winning the Ranji, Irani and the Wills one-day titles, Sandhu was removed after losing to Uttar Pradesh in the 1997-98 Ranji Trophy semi-final. Pravin Amre too had a great record. He won three Ranji titles in five years, but he too was not persuaded to stay on after one ordinary season in 2010-11.
Do you harbour any regrets?
No, not at all. As far as the last three seasons are concerned, I had a great opportunity to share the dressing room with Sachin Tendulkar, Ajit Agarkar, Wasim Jaffer, Zaheer Khan, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Dhawal Kulkarni. I had a good rapport with the support staff, selectors and MCA officials. I am honoured that I was the only first-class cricketer to coach a Mumbai team. I am proud that in my tenure we won the Ranji Trophy for the 40th time. There is
nothing to regret.
Did the Agarkar episode in Cuttack 2011 change your equation with the team?
That episode is over. After that, Agarkar was made the skipper of the one-day team. The moment he was appointed, we shook hands. We realised that we are professionals and not school kids. We had to look forward. Our focus was Mumbai cricket. We started practicing and charted our plans. I became a fan of his captaincy after he led in the first one-day match. He was a fantastic leader and meticulous in his strategy. The way he handled the players on and off the field, was brilliant. I suggested to the then chairman of selectors, Milind Rege to appoint him as skipper. We needed someone like him to lead and win us the Ranji Trophy. He was always involved with the team. He would travel with us in spite of being injured. We had a great time after we won the Ranji Trophy.
Did you have strained relationships with senior players and the captain?
This is utter nonsense. I had no problems with anybody. Stories that I had a communication gap with the team or there was lack of coordination between the captain and coach are mere excuses. Just because we lost, these speculation came up. We lost the match (quarter-final), the championship and that’s it. There is nothing more to it. If we had won that game and defended the Ranji Trophy, would anyone talk about these things? Why did no one speak about these things when we won the title last year after the Agarkar episode (in the 2011-12 season)? I have no issues with anyone. I did my job. You can ask anyone whether I was not giving feedback to the captain or players. My conscience is absolutely clear. As long as I am honest, I don’t care about what anybody says. I am not a newcomer in this field. I have been coaching state teams for the last 10 years. So I know how to talk to players and deal with the team.
Do you think the MCA could have handled your termination in a better way?
Yes, I think so. I was expecting a proper review after the season as two tournaments (one-day and T20) are still to be played. I was preparing for the one-day tournament. This whole thing could have been dealt in a better way.
Are you disappointed that the MCA has still not informed you about their decision to terminate your services?
I am not disappointed. I would not like to say anything on this. I would like to see the positives. I gave my heart and soul in these 28 months to the Mumbai team. I enjoyed every bit of my time coaching them. It doesn’t bother me whether they (MCA) communicate their decision to me or not. Coaching Mumbai was a lifetime opportunity. It was like coaching the Indian team with all star players available. I am very happy that so many youngsters came up during my tenure. Mumbai always thinks about players who can represent the country, and there are a lot of plusses. It gives me immense satisfaction to see Ajinkya and Rohit play Test cricket.
What would you say about Mumbai’s future?
There is a lot of talent, but they need to be groomed properly. There are wise people in the MCA who will take care
With Mumbai U-19 (3 years): Cooch Behar Trophy winners; Vinoo Mankad Trophy winners
Ranji team (3 years): Ranji Trophy winners; Deodhar Trophy winners for West Zone; All-India Bapuna Trophy two-time winners
Coached the Ranji team for two years; Vijay Hazare Trophy one-dayers semi-finalist; Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 quarter-final;
U-19 Cooch Behar Trophy semi-final
With Indian Oil
Coached team to 22 titles between 2003-09