It’s like something one would see in a video game. A boy grows up playing a sport in the bylanes of his city, dreams of playing as a pro, makes it through round after round of hurdles, and finally, at 41, joins a league of professionals made up of A-listers from around the world.
It was too crazy a plot for even Bollywood to dream up, except there’s now a biopic on Pravin Tambe too, titled Kaun Pravin Tambe?, starring Shreyas Talpade and released on Disney+ Hotstar on April 1.
How did Tambe do it, going from a gully and club cricketer with a full-time job and no first-class experience, to a bowler for the Rajasthan Royals and the oldest-ever Indian Premier League (IPL) debutant? You just keep going, make time for the things you’re passionate about and “never give up on your dreams, yaar”, he says.
Tambe, now 50, was a leg-spinner on the Rajasthan Royals (RR) IPL team for three years. With his wily wrists, he claimed 23 wickets across 26 matches, including a hat-trick. He was also the leading wicket-taker (12 in 5 matches), contributing to RR’s second-place finish in the 2013 Champions League T20. In the two years that followed, 2016 and 2017, he was picked by the Gujarat Lions and Sunrisers Hyderabad teams, respectively.
What was it like to suddenly be tossed into this league of all-stars? Before the IPL, “I had no trainer, no diet plan, but (also) no junk food… except for the occasional vada pav, of course,” Tambe says with a chuckle. “I had a normal exercise routine, but I would follow it religiously. But I never really felt too different in the IPL because I was playing cricket, a sport I had played for years.”
For years before he was selected, in fact, he had played every week, honing his skills and instincts anywhere he could. “I had my job, so it wasn’t like I was not looking after my family,” says Tambe, husband to homemaker Vaishali Tambe, and a father of two.
He’d watched his father mix business and pleasure with great success. Vijay Tambe played football for Rashtriya Chemicals and Fertilizers and cricket for Johnson & Johnson. So as Tambe Jr graduated from gully cricket to club cricket, playing in club tournaments such as the Kanga League, he made sure the rest of his life stayed on track too. He finished school, got a degree in commerce, got a job in accounting at Orient Shipping and later as a sports officer with the DY Patil Sports Academy.
Through it all, “I kept pushing, fighting, believing in myself,” he says.
It wasn’t always easy. Just months before he was spotted by RR scouts during a local club match, Tambe suffered a setback that made him wonder if he’d reached the end of his innings. At that point in 2013, he had been captain of the DY Patil Group B team for almost a decade. Now, the 40-year-old was told to switch to the role of coach-cum-player. “I was so disappointed. I cried,” he says.
As fate would have it, the DY Patil Group A’s leg-spinner was injured in the first game, opening up a spot. Tambe switched to the A team to fill it. As scouts from RR watched, he picked up 12 wickets across three matches.
He was invited to Jaipur for trials. There, then-RR-captain Rahul Dravid (now Team India head coach) saw him bowl and picked him. “The legend never once asked me my age. He just looked at my bowling and fielding,” Tambe says. The chase was over; Tambe was living his dream.
Soon, another dream came true: Tambe earned his maiden Mumbai call-up, also in 2013. “Receiving the Ranji Trophy cap from Mumbai stalwart Wasim Jaffer is my most cherished moment,” he says.
With a five-year IPL career behind him, Tambe announced his retirement from domestic cricket in 2018, and was free to play for other international leagues. He played in the Caribbean Premier League in 2020 and the Abu Dhabi T10 League, in which he delivered a hat-trick in 2018.
Now he has set his sights on coaching, and is part of the Kolkata Knight Riders support staff for this IPL season. He’s excited about learning from the world-class coaches on the team, he says. “Of course, I do miss it… playing at the highest level,” Tambe adds. “But I had my time, and I know it’s time to move on.”
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