When you've had the kind of day K Gowtham did on Sunday, it could all get a little too overwhelming. You've dreamed of something like this forever. There are thoughts bouncing off every corner of your mind. Not only are you feeling different things, you have people around you showing different emotions. So, it gets a little hard to pick one message or one reaction that means the most to you.
"Congratulations" is the word Gowtham settled on. "Usually in my place, there's not too much of congratulations, thank you or sorry. So hearing that meant a lot. Coming from my parents and my brothers in itself was a special thing," he told ESPNcricinfo after being bought for INR 6.2 crore (USD 968,000 approx) to play for Rajasthan Royals in the IPL.
Gowtham, 29, is uncapped at international level. He is an offspinning allrounder from Karnataka, but has only recently become a regular fixture in the state side. In all, he has played 22 first-class matches, 4 List A games and 27 T20s.
On Sunday, whether out of nerves or by habit, he was up by 6.30 am, and by 9, he had plonked himself in front of the television, with his family by his side. The opening day of the auction had ended with set no. 11 and he belonged to the lot that was going to kick off the second morning.
Gowtham wasn't going to miss the moment. He wasn't going to hear it from anyone else. Whatever the outcome, he was going to be there to see it himself. "The name popped up and there were no bids for at least 20-30 seconds," he said. "Those 20 seconds were very hard; it felt like 20-25 minutes. But I need to thank Rajasthan Royals for believing in my ability."
Gowtham is now part of a franchise that has historically encouraged lesser-known talent and takes pride in giving them opportunities. He wants to take the one he has been offered to become a better batsman, capable of adapting to various situations.
"Rajasthan Royals are a very talented side. There are lot of people I look forward to working with, lot of positives," he said. "I'll be playing alongside Steven Smith. He is the captain of the Australian team and one of the best in the world. We've all seen what he brings to the team, the way he plays with the players and the way he treats the players. And he knows how to get the best out of the players. And a big-hitting batsman like Ben Stokes, and Stuart Binny and a few others. I'm looking forward to learning a lot about batting in certain situations. That's the most exciting part."
In a way, this IPL contract is a fair reward for the strides Gowtham has made in domestic cricket. Since returning to first-class cricket after a three-year absence in 2016-17, he has evolved into Karnataka's premier spinner. He controls the flight of the ball better now and his drift keeps the batsmen guessing.
Those years away from cricket were sort of an eye-opener for Gowtham, helping him understand his game better. "More importantly, it helped me become a better person," he said. "It made me more humble and mentally tougher. That break is something I used to improve my game and mental strength. There was never a moment when I felt like giving up. My family was supporting me, my friends were always around, and they kept me on track, assuring me I had better things coming my way."
Part of that mental toughness comes from an early understanding of how hard a sportsperson's life can be. Gowtham is the son of Krishnappa, a former Karnataka kabaddi player. His parents were the kind that drove him out of the house when chose to skip the odd practice session. These values, and a philosophical outlook of 'whatever happens happens for a reason' enabled him to take disappointments in his stride.
"My parents didn't expect that I'd go for this amount or that," Gowtham said. "They've always wanted me to play a good brand of cricket more than anything. And my brothers and friends, they've all supported me day in and day out, and contributed in some way or the other. Even my workplace. I'm employed with Vijaya Bank. They've given me time off whenever I've required it for training. They've always given me the liberty of practicing and not allowing me to worry about my financial security, so they've also been a part of this journey.
"Whatever I've dreamt of, I can now fulfill. But it's not for me, it's for my family."
In a few short months, Gowtham will embrace a brand new family, and when that happens, as always, it will be
team family first.