Darshan Nalkande remembers playing cricket with his elder brother, who played the sport for Vidarbha at the U-16 level, at home as kids. Like many of his age, it was usually in the local gullies or wherever they found space. But this initiation piqued his fascination towards the game.

Photo: Darshan Nalkande/Instagram

Always interested in picking up the bat and ball, young Darshan -- only about seven years old -- was put up in a club in his native Akola by his ever-supportive parents. It’s at this club where his love for the game grew and from there came the insistence to prove his mettle.

His insistence paved an opportunity to play in an Under-19 district level match against (Vidarbha) Combined Districts for the Akola Cricket Club -- at the age of just 13 -- that still resonates with him today.

"I persisted, insisting my coach to let me play the match," he recalls. "I had to play it. I used to play with my peers at the time but I wanted to make my mark.

"I always had the talent so the coach used to allow me to practice with the U-19s at the time," he adds laying his credentials. "Even when I was 11-12, he used to put me in practice with the 16-year-old camps."

An all-rounder back then, who used to open the batting and bowling in his age group, the 13-year-old was picked for the match and sent into the face the first deliveries of the two-day affair. He delivered. A solid fifty set the ball rolling as it laid one of the foundations for winning the match but more importantly it had laid the foundation for his future.

READ | From shy Akola kid to city heartthrob, the story of Darshan Nalkande

"That innings gave me the confidence that I could play at bigger levels and that I could do better in my age group as well," he says. "It was an important phase in my life.

"I wasn't even nervous. I used to enjoy cricket so when you get the chance you want to perform. My image with the club was good, so the innings was much appreciated by seniors."

His role from an all-rounder evolved into being a specialist pacer over the years as he switched his focus to bowling.

"I used to be sent lower down the order once I concentrated on bowling," points out Nalkande, who used to idolise Irfan Pathan in his formative years and then his Vidarbha compatriot Umesh Yadav, who he considers as a mentor. "I used to be sent five- or six-down and then you have to slog it then..."

A couple of years on, he played the Raj Singh Dungarpur Trophy alongside several club and district level games before relocating to Nagpur and living in the residential academies to better his cricketing prospects. Nalkande has also supported his state in the Ranji Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy, as well as representing India at the U-19 level.

For a young teenager who insisted that he play among the bigger boys, he got his just rewards as seven years later he found himself picked by Kings XI Punjab for the VIVO Indian Premier League.