There is an air of curiosity around everything Prasidh Krishna does these days. Sure, he's been an IPL regular for Kolkata Knight Riders since 2018. But, it's not every day that a bowler outside the periphery of the national team, or maybe even India A, gets a special mention from the India captain. He has elicited interest because Virat Kohli had recently said "he could possibly be an X-factor" for India in the run-up to the T20 World Cup later this year.
Such a compliment should make someone heady. You must beam with pride, right? For Prasidh, it's the opposite. He doesn't like people asking him about it. He doesn't like that attention. He isn't the flashy in-your-face character. He's mild-mannered, doesn't growl at batsmen and certainly doesn't believe in giving send-offs. He likes his bowling to do all the talking.
Little more about his mannerisms later. For now, it's about Prasidh, the fast bowler. This was supposed to be the year he finally nailed down a regular spot in Karnataka's first-class set-up. For four years, since a sensational five-for on debut against Bangladesh A in 2015, he had to sit out because Karnataka had a dominant pace-attacking of Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, S Aravind, and later Ronit More. Chances were few and far between, and Prasidh was branded a white-ball specialist initially.
Vinay's departure to Puducherry this season opened the doors for Prasidh to be a shoo-in. He offered everything Vinay did, with the addition of 20kph speed. Things looked bright. Last September, he even earned the appreciation of his former captain, Vinay, when he picked up a match-winning five-for against Saurashtra, just before the game against Puducherry at the Vijay Hazare Trophy. But the same evening, he would receive a massive jolt. An injury. No ordinary one. A stress fracture of the fibula (a long thin bone) on his left leg. Except, at that stage, he brushed it off as a "normal niggle."
"Everything was going well, and suddenly just like that it was gone" Prasidh says. "I know there's no right time to get injured, but suddenly, I couldn't even walk properly. There was an impingement in my hip. The pain got worse and just before the T20s, I had stiffness in my calf.
"Initially, during the Vijay Hazare Trophy, I didn't notice it. I thought it was a niggle. During T20s when I was bowling, it started hurting a lot. When I got it scanned, it was a stress fracture. I knew then that I had to take some time off. I was at the NCA. I had to simply rest for two months. No running, nothing to do with physios and trainers. Just rest and static strengthening. Only in January, I started training, bowling and all of that."
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As Prasidh spent time sitting out, his mind couldn't help but wander back to the Karnataka camp. He kept going into the 'why me, why now' circle even as Karnataka went on to win the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Mushtaq Ali trophies. But slowly, he realised the need to get out of that zone quickly.
"It was very hard initially because I was there with the team in the Vijay Hazare Trophy," he recalls. "I was at least in the dressing room [even if I wasn't playing], so I was at least satisfied I was part of the team. T20s, I know, they were doing well, but it was hard sitting at home and watching the team win and me not being able to play a part.
"But I also realised I had the time off to work on things I lacked, give priority to my fitness and skill so that when I come back, I am one step ahead of what I was. It didn't put me down so much after a while. I became optimistic and took it in the right spirit."
When he eventually received the green signal from the physios to resume bowling, Prasidh realised he had to work that much extra because he was walking back, literally, at the business end of the Ranji Trophy season. Returning for the must-win final league game against Baroda in Bengaluru, Prasidh bowled all of six overs in the first innings.
"I had to bowl a lot [in the build-up to my comeback] since I was coming into the four-day format," he acknowledges. "It would've been easier to come back to one-day or T20 format. I had to take the extra week's time too get back to full fitness only because it was first-class cricket and Ranji Trophy.
"I'm not yet in full rhythm. Even in the last game, I bowled just six overs in the first innings. In the second innings, I was on the tired side. It was my first game upon return, so it was on the back of my mind. I didn't know how much I could push myself. Sometimes, I tried to push from the mind but my body wasn't coping with it. I can't say I'm at my best, but I'm getting there. I can't play thinking 'what happens if I get injured', then you're just going to be unnecessarily burdening your mind. Hopefully, I will peak at the right time."
Prasidh has played seven first-class games over five seasons now. Match-time has been a challenge, but he's also had to work on his red-ball temperament. Prasidh has taken time off to iron out his flaws like working on his run-up, load-up, cutting down on angles and generating greater speed into his delivery stride.
"I think the IPL and whatever cricket I've played has helped me get matured and understand what is needed," he says. "It's not just about coming in and bowling, but about being smart. I worked on my run-up to begin with. I'm feeling good mostly.
"I worked under physio Amit Tyagi at the NCA. It was a good environment to work my way back in, and the Karnataka team has welcomed me back with open arms. I love coming back here, no matter how tired I am.
"As a batch, we've built on a foundation that was set six-seven years ago. The kind of bonding there is in the group makes you feel like home. We're all pushing each other to make the next step up, we all understand in every batch one, two or maybe three will go through. All of us are looking to upgrade ourselves to the next level."
When asked about replacing Vinay, Prasidh spontaneously replies: "irreplacable." He has utmost respect for his former captain, and brushes aside comparisons. Instead, he delves into how every member of Karnataka's core group has silently taught him precious lessons along the way.
"Vinay is a legend, what he's done for Karnataka will be hard to emulate," he says. "He is irreplacable. What we can do in our control is when we get chances, ensure we are all match ready. Being picked isn't in our hands. What I have personally learnt is to be persistent and never give up.
"You look at Manish Pandey, whenever he gets a game [for India], he makes sure he's there. Everybody looks up to him here. Karun Nair has been trying hard. Numbers may not present the right picture, but we've seen the hard work behind the scenes. Mayank Agarwal, what he did all those years ago to break open the door was inspirational. KL Rahul came back for the Vijay Hazare [after being dropped from the Test team], showed his hunger, made runs and we know what he's gone on to do. In this dressing room, there is something to learn from every single person, that is the best thing about the group."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo