India’s 19-year-old Atharva Ankolekar is a ‘born fighter’


Atharva Ankolekaar (file photo)
Atharva Ankolekaar (file photo)

The coming Sunday (February 9) is a big day for India’s Atharva Ankolekar as the country faces neighbour Bangladesh in the ICC Under-19 Cricket World Cup 2020 at Senwes Park, Potchefstroom in South Africa. Atharva fought many odds in his real-life to reach the World-stage.

Atharva’s father Vinod Ankolekar played for Jolly Cricketers club in Mumbai’s Kanga League and worked with the electricity division of the Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport Undertaking (BEST). He died when the boy was 10 years old. Vinod instilled the ambition to become a professional cricketer in young Atharva’s mind.

Ankolekar’s mother took up a job as a bus conductor after the death of his father to fund his cricket career. The family including younger brother Parth live in a one-bedroom house in Andheri East, a Mumbai suburb.

Ankolekar displayed his skills in the U-19 World Cup semi-final against Pakistan earlier this week. He took 1-29 in his seven overs, claiming the wicket of Mohammad Haris (21). The wicket was possible thanks to a stunning diving effort from Divyaansh Saxena at deep square leg. Atharva also effected a runout, dismissing top-order batsman Qasim Akram (9).

In December 2019, Atharva Ankolekar was amongst the 971 registered players available for bidding in the IPL auction. Fresh off his left-arm-spin heroics in the junior Asia Cup final, Ankolekar could not be faulted for dreaming of an IPL ticket. But he failed to make the auction short-list for a technical reason, not having played List A cricket, eligibility criteria to make the cut.

The born fighter had no option but to channelise his energies towards the next potentially life-changing opportunity, the U19 World Cup. Ankolekar starred in the U19 World Cup quarter-final against Australia, with a fighting half-century and an economical spell of bowling.

“It can be a turning point of his life. If India wins this match, he will get a lot of future-scope, and confidence from winning a big final,” says Atharva’s mother Vaidehi.

Born on September 26, 2000, Atharva Ankolekar was the highest wicket-taker at the 2019 ACC Under-19 Asia Cup and player of the match in the final.

Ankolekar made steady progress through Mumbai’s age-group teams, before being selected for India B in the Under-19 Challenger Trophy and Mumbai under-23 squad in 2019. He was selected in the 15-member Indian squad for the 2019 ACC Under-19 Asia Cup.

He picked 12 wickets in the tournament, including a match-winning 5/28 in the final against Bangladesh, to finish as the highest wicket-taker. Following this performance, Ankolekar gained selection to the Mumbai senior team for the 2019–20 Vijay Hazare Trophy.

After sitting out of India’s first two matches in the ICC U-19 World Cup, Ankolekar’s spell of 3/28 in the final group stage match against New Zealand drew praise.