Dhawal Kulkarni first came into the spotlight after his performances for Mumbai Under-17s in the 2005-06 Vijay Merchant Trophy. Impressive performances at the U-19 state level, including 8 for 47 against Tamil Nadu, saw him book a place on the India U-19 tour of Sri Lanka in 2007. He continued the good work there and was rewarded with a spot in Mumbai's side for the Ranji one-dayers in 2008 as well as a contract with the Mumbai Indians in the Indian Premier League. In his first Ranji season, he emerged the tournament's most successful bowler, taking 42 wickets and invariably providing early breakthroughs for Mumbai, the eventual winners. The dream season continued with his inclusion in the Test squad for the tour of New Zealand in 2009.