Even as left-arm spinner Nilesh Kulkarni ends his chequered cricketing career on a rather poignant note, he begins a new corporate innings on a cheerful high. As the director of International Institute of Sports Management (IISM), he now aspires to create a new generation of sports management professionals across the globe.
In this exclusive tête-à-tête with Sudhir Raikar, he unfolds the trials and triumphs of the past as also his aspirations going forward.
Seated in his office cabin like a typical high-flying executive, the tall, lanky 6’ 4.5’’ Nilesh Kulkarni looms large, literally and otherwise. The inhibited expression on his face hints at two parallel emotions - the gloom at the rather unsung, if not unceremonious exit from cricket and the excitement of a new corporate venture expectant with rich possibilities across the globe.
"One moves on, the cricket of my playing years is behind me now" he remarks philosophically. "I surely feel the void - after an eventful and emotional association with Mumbai, I thought I deserved a better deal from the MCA" he laments.
It was Kulkarni’s ardent wish that he called it a day amidst the action of the playground ...not as a mute spectator of the game that he called his career. But that was not to be as he was dropped from the Mumbai team to accommodate some "young Turk" three years back. For a player claiming over 350 wickets and 24 five-wicket feats, providence truly failed him in the final adieu.
But the luck factor has always proved more elusive that elusive for Kulkarni. He could not have asked for a more striking debut in international cricket (against Sri Lanka in 1997) with a wicket off his first ball dismissing Marvan Attapattu - the only Indian and the 12th player in the world to achieve the feat. But following this grand admission into the Hall of Fame was the embarrassment of going wicket less for the rest of that match, watching the Sri Lankans amass a record total instead.
Worse, the next wicket came only in the Border - Gavaskar series of 2001(in the form of Mat Hayden) which sadly proved Kulkarni’s last. His sojourn in the limited over version was equally modest with 11 wickets from 10 ODIs.
Having quit all forms of the game, Kulkarni is now embarking on a corporate voyage ...as the director of IISM, a sports management training institute offering full time post graduate and part time diploma courses.
So how and when did the idea of IISM evolve?
"Unlike other professionals, sportspersons retire early; we have to keep an eye on the future even during our playing years. In that context, my stints with leading organizations like Globosport and Athletes1 as a marketing consultant helped me perceive the tremendous scope for sports management and marketing worldwide, more so in India. And yet, the sector remains largely devoid of professionals with the right attitude and aptitude to serve its diverse demands." Kulkarni contends.
"I strongly felt the need for a body like IISM to help bridge the glaring gap that divides the two currents - On one end is a vibrant, youthful population of aspirants keen to make their mark in a sunrise sector ...On the other is the robust value chain of sports management companies, advertising agencies, media buying firms and celebrity management companies. We believe our alliances with leading names in training, internships and placement will undoubtedly spell bright careers for our graduates in their chosen disciplines"
Kulkarni believes that enabling students to develop the capability to shape their own lives should be an integral part of every education. The IISM course curriculum, he says, is tailored to strike a conscious blend of academia and industry fostering analytical approach and critical thinking along with academic excellence. The wide ranging topics include sports PR & journalism, nutrition & health and strategic management, sport marketing, facility management and bio-mechanics among other topics.
"Our classroom sessions will go hand in hand with real-life, real-time exposure to various sport events, practical case studies and project assignments" he quips in.
The IISM inaugural batch for 2010 has elicited great response from students worldwide (solely through web-enabled visibility - primarily via the website https://www.iismworld.com) but Kulkarni is resolute to filter entries based on the applicant’s authenticity. "He or she should be genuinely interested in sport management, and not be driven by lure of big bucks alone. Our rigorous personal interviews ensure that. For the first year, we have restricted the batch size to 80 students."
Kulkarni will always be remembered for his dogged performance in the hugely popular domestic Ranji Trophy circuit, being an integral part of the Mumbai team. He invariably grabbed wickets on any turf and helped Mumbai win crucial ties in the company of icons like Sachin Tendulkar and Sanjay Manjrekar, like Wasim Jaffer and Amol Mazumdar. In fact, it was his exemplary match winning bowling feat in the momentous day-night 1996-97 Ranji final versus Delhi that won him a place in the national squad.
"I have relished every moment of my Mumbai tenure. Precisely why I never chose to play for another state despite umpteen offers from rival states -some otherwise irresistible" In contrast, many of his peers dispersed elsewhere. So does he now regret his decision, especially in the light of MCA’s apathy?
"Absolutely not. My loyalty to Mumbai was absolutely unconditional; not in the lure of winning brownie points. And the sheer delight of donning the Mumbai cap is far greater than the disappointment with the MCA’s nonchalant ways. Some things in life are simply not for trade" Kulkarni remarks with poise as he takes guard ...shifting gears from one turf to another!
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