Who is KC Cariappa? That was the first question nearly everyone would have asked once Cariappa was bought by defending IPL champions Kolkata Knight Riders for an astonishing sum of Rs 2.4 crore ($400,000), 24 times his base price.
Konganda Charamanna Cariappa is a 20-year-old legspinner from Coorg in Karnataka. Curiously both the BCCI and the Karnataka State Cricket Association had him listed as an off-break bowler. However, Cariappa, known as Carri to his team-mates, confirmed he is primarily a legspinner with a grip that allows him to bowl off breaks and leg breaks.
At 5 feet 11 inches, Cariappa is tall for a spinner and bowls with an orthodox round-arm action. The leg break is his stock ball, and he has variations like the googly and the faster one. His other strength, that could make it difficult for batsmen to read him, is his ability to bowl off-spinners without changing the grip.
Like many keen and talented cricketers in India, Cariappa started performing in tennis-ball cricket. "I was a Sachin fan. But in my bowling I did not copy anyone. I would bowl with my three-finger grip. My coaches found that interesting and asked me to focus on my bowling," Cariappa said.
Knight Riders have always shown an interest in spinners with unusual actions, picking West Indies offspinner Sunil Narine, Sri Lanka offspinner Sachithra Senanayake and Indian chinaman bowler Kuldeep Yadav.
For Cariappa, the breakthrough with Knight Riders came through an association with AR Srikkanth, who is the team analyst for Knight Riders and Bijapur Bulls, the franchise Cariappa represents in the Karnataka Premier League, which is a state-level, franchise-based Twenty20 league. In his first KPL season last year, Cariappa bowled impressively and finished as the third-highest wicket-taker in the tournament with 11 dismissals. His performances attracted attention from a few IPL team scouts.
Cariappa was asked to give a trial during the Knight Riders camp in Hyderabad last September before the Champions League Twenty20.
"I was very nervous because it was the first time I was asked to bowl against an IPL team," Cariappa told ESPNcricinfo. The spinner said he did not bowl anything special: "Nothing like that, I just bowled well."
His bowling must have impressed Knight Riders who asked him to enter the auction. Gautam Gambhir, the team captain and a good player of spin, had failed to read Cariappa consistently and told the team management about this, helping the legspinner's case.
The dramatic rise in his bidding, as Knight Riders contested fiercely with Delhi Daredevils, was not lost on Cariappa who was following the auction, but he never expected the price for which he was eventually bought.
"I am very excited. But how this kind of thing suddenly happened I have no idea," he said. "I thought they were interested in me so I would go for my base price of Rs 10 lakhs. I was not sure about Delhi also bidding."
The last six months have opened up a lot of options for Cariappa. Immediately after the KPL, the Karnataka selectors decided to include him in the 30 probables for the Ranji Trophy. According to one of the selectors, when the panel saw him bowl in the local league tournaments, they failed to read his hand.
"Even we thought he was an offspinner to begin with. He is very much in the Sunil Narine league in terms of his action. He has the carrom ball, too which is deceptive. It was this X-factor that prompted us to pick him in the probables," the selector said.