When he left home, Kartikeya's father extolled his son to "make something of himself" before he returns. It is that drive that has kept him going for these years. An impressive maiden IPL season has helped, but what will make the homecoming sweeter is playing a starring role in taking Madhya Pradesh to the Ranji Trophy semi-finals. Although Kartikeya believes his team has the ability to go all the way this time.
"It feels great to have taken this team to the semi-finals," Kartikeya tells ESPNcricinfo after his 6 for 50 in the second innings helped Madhya Pradesh pick up an easy ten-wicket win over Punjab, and make the last four for the first time in six years. "Our target is to go on and win the whole thing, and not be happy with a semi-final appearance alone. We are prepared to do the hard yards for this and I am 100 percent certain, we have the ability to win the next two games.
"You don't win tournaments with marquee names alone…you have to play good cricket to pull it off, and at the moment we are doing exactly that."
While the win in Alur has been satisfactory, it wasn't without its blemishes, as head coach Chandrakant Pandit also reminded the team. Kartikeya says, "There will always be scope for improvement. Our batting and bowling in this match has been good but we must remember we dropped a few easy catches, especially in the first innings. We had a team meeting right after the match and Chandu sir [Pandit] pointed out the same. When you win, the good things that you have done are visible to everybody, but your mistakes stand out for you alone. These are things we need to quickly work on."
Kartikeya came to the fore in the IPL as a "left-arm everything" bowler, but goes back to orthodox left-arm spin in the red-ball format. He says, "You need variations in T20 cricket, and that's why I mix up finger spin with wristspin in that format. Over here, I go back to my natural grounding as a left-arm spinner."
Kartikeya gives full credit for his and his team's performance to guidance from the experienced former Indian wicketkeeper-batter Pandit. He says, "He guided me on what lines and lengths to stick to and what angles to use. The pitch started taking a bit of excess turn in the second innings and that made the batters a touch more defensive and that worked to my advantage. In the second innings, I changed my angle a bit and went around the wicket with straighter balls rather than running in on a diagonal. What was most important was to find a spot and keep hitting it. I was able to do that, and that yielded wickets for me."
"I don't look at the big names in the opposition, rather I just focus on my process and my plans"
The left-arm spinner picked up key wickets of Abhishek Sharma, Shubman Gill, Mandeep Singh and Gurkeerat Singh Mann in the second innings, all of who are experienced names in the domestic circuit. Kartikeya, though, emphasised that rather than focusing on the names in the opposition, he backs his plans at all times.
"I don't look at the big names in the opposition, rather I just focus on my process and my plans," he says. "Things tend to fall in place when you bowl with consistency. Besides, not every day is a batter's day, and today was one such day for me. I intend to carry on with the same process and plans in the next few games."
Unless a minor miracle occurs, Madhya Pradesh will come up against the record-breaking batting lineup of Bengal in the last four. Kartikeya, for one, believes his team has the ability to overcome any opponent as long as they stick to their plans and execute them consistently.
And then there's the added allure of going home as a champion.