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Gowtham takes baby steps to being an IPL regular again

From being Warne's "project" in 2018 to seeing many highs and lows over the years, he finally has a first real infield IPL memory to take back home

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
Krishnappa Gowtham celebrates after dismissing Prithvi Shaw, Lucknow Super Giants vs Delhi Capitals, IPL 2022, Navi Mumbai, April 7, 2022

Krishnappa Gowtham celebrates after dismissing Prithvi Shaw  •  BCCI

On March 4, when the world received the shattering news of Shane Warne's passing, one among the many millions in mourning was offspinning-allrounder K Gowtham. During Warne's time with Rajasthan Royals as a mentor, Gowtham was one of his "projects" in 2018.
Call it a coincidence or whatever, but Gowtham's IPL career hasn't quite scaled the heights after that year. A full four years, three franchises later - Punjab Kings, Chennai Super Kings and now Lucknow Supergiants - Gowtham is taking steps back to being a regular.
His performance on Thursday night reads a mere 1 for 23 off four overs on the scorecard. What it won't tell you is he was walloped for three fours and a six as Prithvi Shaw climbed into him. What it won't tell you is the maiden over he returned to deliver against Rishabh Pant. Or how he dismissed Shaw at a crucial point in the game when Capitals threatened to post a total bigger than the 149 they eventually posted.
Now let's go back four years, to the summer of 2018. What did Warne do then that Gowtham's other captains and coaches haven't? Warne had trained him to develop a mindset that busted myths about spinners not being able death bowlers. He was backed to deliver with the new ball, by using his skid and drift that are his biggest weapons. In the middle overs, he moulded himself to a more traditional role of being restrictive.
Gowtham may have been nicknamed "Bhajji" earlier - when his earlier action was eerily like Harbhajan Singh's - but he has never been a big turner of the ball. And as a batter lower down the order, he had the ability to take down attacks. But not at the IPL level. However, half a season into that year, he proved it on the big stage. Coming in at No. 8 with Royals needing a steep 43 off 17 against Mumbai Indians, Gowtham clattered Jasprit Bumrah in the death to make a 11-ball 33 and seal an improbable win.
Why are we talking of what happened four years ago, you may wonder. With some players, it's important to give the entire context. That breakout season brought Gowtham 11 wickets at an economy rate of under eight an over. It should have been the start of an illustrious IPL career, but it has been anything but that.
In 2019, Gowtham featured in just seven games for Royals, used all of 20 overs that brought him one solitary wicket. Warne's role by then was reduced to being that of a brand ambassador. He was no longer involved in decision-making. Gowtham would later reveal how he missed the arm around a shoulder when he needed it.
Ahead of IPL 2020, he was traded to Kings XI Punjab. Gowtham's hopes may have risen slightly, for he was going to play under another legspinning legend, Anil Kumble, who had taken over as head coach, and Karnataka team-mate KL Rahul, who was captain. Two games and a proper shellacking later, he was benched for the rest of the season.
Then came the high of 2021, when he became the richest Indian uncapped player in IPL history, when Chennai Super Kings kept raising the paddle and finally secured him at INR 9.25 crore (US$ 1,273,000 approx.) after staving off competition from Kolkata Knight Riders and Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Astronomical sum, big buy. Surely, he was going to play a key role, right? Wrong. He was only being signed as a back-up. Moeen Ali's presence as a reliable four-overs bowler across conditions consigned Gowtham to the bench for the entire season. He soaked in the riches of a title-winning season without having anything to show off.
That brought him to 2022. Maybe the Super Kings will buy him back, and for a lot cheaper? Nope. They didn't even put in a bid. Lucknow Super Giants opened the bidding at INR 50 lakh - his base price had jumped from INR 20 lakh since he became a capped player on the tour of Sri Lanka in July 2021 - and they secured his services at INR 90 lakh (US$ 120,000 approx.) without any drama. His salary reduction of 90.27% was the biggest pay cut of the auctions this year.
Coming into this season, there was plenty to prove. At 33, he was at crossroads. Quirks of fate or whatever, he was going to once again play under Rahul and Andy Flower, who had been the assistant coach at Kings when he last teamed up with the pair. Would this year be any different?
He sat out of the first three games owing to team combination. Manish Pandey's own struggles coupled with the emergence of Ewin Lewis and uncapped Ayush Badoni in the middle order pushed them to strengthen their lower order. Enter Gowtham. And he ended what started off as a forgettable day with an impact performance that spoke of his utility.
He bowled the second over and came under Shaw's bus immediately. Shaw has the incredible ability of hitting perfectly acceptable lengths on the up effortlessly. He slashed Gowtham for a four through cover, before a streaky edge flew over the slips. Gowtham didn't return until the eighth over, when Shaw welcomed him with a wallop over long-off. Gowtham was struggling to find his lengths and kept bowling into Shaw's arc. He later admitted it was jitters of not being an IPL regular that played a hand in his slow start.
But two balls into the over, he went around the wicket and beat Shaw with the skid, and eventually had him nicking behind. A dangerous 67-run opening stand had been broken. It helped Gowtham immensely that Ravi Bishnoi was on the money - varying his wrong'uns and lengths superbly to keep the batters honest. With that kind of a start, Capitals should have looked to hit out a lot more. They did but failed.
At 80 for 3 after 11 overs and with an innings to rebuild, Pant went into his shell just a tad bit. Gowtham used this to eke out a maiden. It was only the first time Pant had played out a maiden in his T20 career. It was also perhaps the first real infield IPL memory for Gowtham to carry back home after the highs and lows of the last four years.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo