In January, Prasidh Krishna was just a net bowler trying to impress IPL talent scouts. Eight months on, he's risen to the ranks of the 10 best fast bowlers outside the national team, mentored at India A by Rahul Dravid and Paras Mhambrey, who are at the helm of an excellent feeder system to the senior team. For this recognition, however, Prasidh has Kolkata Knight Riders to thank.
Prasidh attended trials with three IPL teams earlier in the year, but none of them picked him at the auction. His first-class career hadn't taken off - his lone appearance coming in September 2015 - and he had only played a handful of matches for Karnataka in the shorter formats. It seemed as if he would have to take a forced break after the Deodhar Trophy in March. However, there were a few who had their eyes on him.
Abhishek Nayar, who would go on to mentor KKR's domestic players, and Dinesh Karthik, the captain, put in a word with Venky Mysore, the CEO. The team's performance analyst and lead talent scout AR Srikkanth too watched Prasidh bowl in the Vijay Hazare Trophy - where he was the tournament's second-highest wicket-taker with 17 at an average of 16.52 in Karnataka's title-winning run. A collective decision was taken to shortlist him for trials along with S Aravind, who has since retired and taken over as the state team's bowling coach.
At Eden Gardens, Prasidh and Aravind were inducted into KKR's pre-tournament matches, sometimes two in a day, to gauge their level of preparedness.
A week into the season, a place in the squad opened up for a fast bowler. Kamlesh Nagarkoti, fresh from a victorious Under-19 World Cup campaign and capable of bowling consistently over 140kph, was diagnosed with a foot injury. The franchise had to take a call on a replacement, and choose between a rookie and a tried-and-tested campaigner with a proven track record in T20 cricket with Karnataka and Royal Challengers Bangalore.
KKR took a punt on Prasidh, and he finished as the second-highest wicket-taker among their fast bowlers, with 10 wickets in seven matches in a tournament where they made the playoffs. This was especially noteworthy since he had looked a "little under pressure" in his first two games against Mumbai Indians, finishing with combined figures of 8-0-80-1.
"Wankhede is a deadly wicket," Prasidh says, and nods with a laugh when prompted with a 'paata' response. His overall economy rate at the end of the season was 9.28 - expensive on the surface, but the best among his team's fast bowlers - and KKR were happy with their return on investment. In fact, according to ESPNcricinfo's calculations, Prasidh was among the five most impressive players in IPL 2018 in terms of their contribution in relation to their auction price.
It hadn't been a straightforward decision for KKR to pick Prasidh over Aravind. In fact, Prasidh hadn't looked particularly impressive in the pre-tournament games.
"Kamlesh Nagarkoti was having a niggle just before the tournament started. I had called Prasidh and S Aravind from Bangalore to come and bowl in the nets," Srikanth says. "Aravind was bowling really well; Prasidh went for a lot of runs. In one match, he bowled nine or 12 no-balls. But that may have been his off day, or something may have been not quite right with the ground or run-up. We also played at a different venue.
"If we had to base him on that, he wouldn't have been playing in the IPL or anywhere near where he is now. We saw that he had the potential: he could bowl a heavy ball, hit the good length, and hit the wicket hard. We thought we could nurture him, groom him, and if he was good, he would play the tournament this year. That's how we picked him."
The move, in many ways, seems to have fast-tracked Prasidh's career. In England, he was part of a victorious tri-series squad with India A. Now, he's part of the India B squad in the quadrangular series also involving the A teams of Australia and South Africa. In the first game, he was India B's best fast bowler, picking up four-wickets to set up a convincing win over South Africa A.
As a fast bowler, Prasidh's strength is his accuracy. He generally bowls in the high 130s, and is working on becoming faster without compromising on direction. "If you can bowl fast, then you can take pitches out of the equation," he says. "That will also give me an edge. You start playing then on the batsman's mind. Yes, I'm not the fastest bowler currently, but I believe I have the potential to get there."
Still only 22, there's no reason to believe he can't. Prasidh is a regular trainee at the MRF Pace Foundation, headed by Glenn McGrath, and has been to Australia on an exchange programme, where he trained under Jeff Thomson. It was this stint two years ago that taught him the importance of being bowling-fit and not just gym-fit.
"The training methods there are different, the body structure is different. We had sessions on biomechanics, which I found interesting. Those helped me understand things like load-up, run-up, alignment better," he says. "Also, I learnt that we can't compare athletes from the two countries because we are built differently. Once you understand these aspects, it helps you understand your body better. I feel my interest in this has helped me take strides in my bowling too."
So far, Prasidh has had to contend with a lot of competition in Karnataka. A strong pace battery that includes Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and, until last season, Aravind has often left him no room to even make the squad, let alone the first team. This wait, Prasidh believes, has made him mentally tougher.
"That has made me tougher as a bowler," he says. "The wait for opportunities can be frustrating but it's that suffocating competition that pushes me to work harder. I honestly didn't expect all this to come my way so soon [IPL and India A] but I knew if I kept following the routines I have, I will get there sooner than later."
In his childhood, Prasidh wasn't interested in watching cricket. A chance trip to the Chinnaswamy, where he watched Brett Lee bowl, fired him up. Last year, Lee, on duty as commentator in the Karnataka Premier League, took time off to chat with Prasidh after watching him bowl. Lee advised him to "not get ahead of himself", and keep working hard.
Prasidh has taken this advice seriously. "I don't see why that should change. I always believe in the phrase 'keep working hard, you never know when good things will come your way'."