Meet M Venkatesh, the shy rookie who lit up a Ranji quarter-final

The fast bowler emulated his childhood hero Abhimanyu Mithun with a five-wicket haul on first-class debut

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
M Venkatesh took 5 for 36 on first-class debut to help Karnataka bowl Uttarakhand out for 116  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

M Venkatesh took 5 for 36 on first-class debut to help Karnataka bowl Uttarakhand out for 116  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

M Venkatesh comes from a family of musicians. His grandmother and younger brother are classical singers. Growing up, Venkatesh was different. He loved playing cricket and roughing up batters gave him a thrill.
On Friday, he roughed up Uttarakhand in the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals on a greenish M Chinnaswamy Stadium deck, becoming only the fifth Karnataka bowler since 2006 to pick up a five-for on first-class debut. One of the bowlers in that list, Abhimanyu Mithun, was Venkatesh's hero in his age-group days. He simply calls him Mithun anna (older brother).
Venkatesh woke up expecting to carry drinks, like he had done all season, and when he got a tap on the shoulder from his captain Mayank Agarwal, informing him of his debut, he froze. V Koushik had pulled up with a back spasm and Venkatesh was going to be in the thick of things quickly, with Karnataka electing to bowl.
"I didn't have time to call anyone [family] and inform them I was playing," Venkatesh said after the day's play, with Karnataka firmly in control after bowling out Uttarakhand for 116. "It feels nice to finally get an opportunity. I wasn't expecting it at all, and I was totally surprised when I got the news."
Venkatesh, 22, grew up playing a lot of cricket in Mysore, but he didn't necessarily watch a lot of it. His father played local cricket and wished his son would carry forward his interest in the sport. When young Venkatesh did, he was delighted. "My father would show me videos of Kapil Dev," he said. "He was my father's hero. I also watched a lot of videos of him."
Venkatesh is shy and soft-spoken, and almost needs to be shaken up to speak. It certainly felt that way at his post-game media interaction when he sat at a table fielding questions about his growing-up years and his journey to the Karnataka team.
Even a local cameraperson looking for that perfect shot when Venkatesh fielded on the boundary had to cajole him to show some josh (energy). Venkatesh's teammates, who were walking beside the rope then, joked about how he had been shivering in the dressing room before taking the field.
Once the first wicket was out of the way, Venkatesh appeared a lot calmer. He ran in hard, bent his back, and bowled quickly and accurately for most of his first spell, an eight-over burst that brought him two wickets.
It helped Venkatesh that much of the pressure he was able to exert was also kept up at the other end by Vidwath Kaverappa and Vijaykumar Vyshak. Venkatesh, the junior-most member of the pace-bowling group, largely kept to himself early in the day but by the end of Uttarakhand's innings mustered up enough courage to speak with his senior colleagues.
When he uprooted Abhay Negi's middle stump with some late tail in, Venkatesh was unstoppable. By then, he was running on instinct and adrenaline. The fifth and final wicket came when Kunal Chandela, Uttarakhand's best batter on the day, misjudged the line of an away-going delivery and nicked to Manish Pandey in the slips.
As he led the team off the field, Venkatesh wiped away a tear. He had to be coaxed into raising the ball up to acknowledge the dressing room. He was also clapped off the field by Ravindra Jadeja and Navdeep Saini, who are currently at the National Cricket Academy (NCA), which is housed in the Chinnaswamy Stadium.
Venkatesh touched upon how he had needed to be patient and wait for his chance in a team brimming with talent. If you were a Karnataka seam bowler in the 2012-18 period, you would have needed a lot of patience, since R Vinay Kumar, Mithun and S Aravind, the pace trio that led the team to back-to-back domestic trebles, were at their peak. Even someone as talented and skilled as Prasidh Krishna had to carry drinks for three full seasons before getting a look-in.
Several bowlers have had to contend with the frustration of missing out. Ask HS Sharath. A fourth seamer who came in and out of the side based on conditions, he was part of the famous double-treble attack before fading away. He hasn't played.a first-class game in seven years. Then there's Ronit More, in one day, out the next. The cycle has repeated itself on loop. More even left to play for Himachal, only to return. It's fair to say things haven't gone to plan.
Since 2019, though, things have been different. The famous troika were no longer together, with Vinay first leaving for Puducherry and then retiring. Mithun and Aravind, who was Karnataka's bowling coach last season, followed suit. It left Karnataka needing to search for a new seam attack, and several contenders have staked a claim. Venkatesh is the latest in a long list of fast bowlers trying to make a mark and become a regular.
"It feels amazing to play in the same team as some of these legends," Venkatesh said. "Aravind anna has been backing me a lot, always open to giving me inputs and suggestions on how I can improve. Playing for the same team that legends like Vinay anna and Mithun anna played for feels amazing. I love bowling fast and I hope to keep improving."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo