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Late-blooming Koushik wants to make the most of his time

A mechanical engineer by qualification, Koushik let go a corporate career to pursue his passion

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
V Koushik has picked up 24 wickets in five games in this Ranji Trophy season  •  KSCA

V Koushik has picked up 24 wickets in five games in this Ranji Trophy season  •  KSCA

V Koushik didn't play club cricket until he was 17. During his early teens, he was so academically inclined, that he gravitated towards science. A degree in mechanical engineering was a natural progression, but at 21, he took a different route.
"I took a gap year," he tells ESPNcricinfo. It's a decision he doesn't regret nearly a decade later. At 31, he is a late bloomer. His road to get here has been cobbled with challenges, but being a key part of Karnataka's pace attack has made the journey sweeter.
So far in this Ranji Trophy season, Koushik has picked up 24 wickets in five games. Beyond the bare numbers is a story of a bowler who can relentlessly come at you all day, bowling a nagging line and prising out batters with swing or minute deception.
"I'm not a 140kph bowler, I'm very clear about that," Koushik says. "Maybe this is one attribute that has hurt my IPL chances despite consistent performances. But I can't suddenly change that. You can put me in the league of a Sandeep Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Deepak Chahar - who are all not pacy, but can move the ball and bowl in the late 120s, early 130s."
Last week, Koushik contributed a vital 1 not out to Karnataka's one-wicket win over Railways. He walked in to bat with the team needing 12 more. He held his nerve along with Manish Pandey to deliver a third win for the team in five matches.
Interestingly, Koushik himself could have played for the Railways, a team he is qualified to represent courtesy his father who was an employee. He grew up playing recreationally at the Rail Wheel Factory grounds in Bengaluru, and had the opportunity to be a part of the set-up through the Railways' recruitment.
However, he spent his gap year playing club cricket, which paved the way for an entry into the Karnataka Under-23 squad. But the road uphill was tough since the team had a proven pace attack of Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and S Arvind. With the team on a massive wave of success - they swept the domestic scene for two seasons in a row from 2013-2015 - opportunities were far and few between.
"He [Mayank] sometimes has more belief in me than I have in myself. It's great to have a captain like him."
Koushik on his Karnataka captain
Koushik now decided it was time to pursue a corporate job alongside cricket. He interviewed with a number of multinational companies and soon joined Amazon India, the e-commerce giant, as a content developer in the ad policing department.
"It was tough," he says. "I didn't get much time to train, but I couldn't sit doing nothing either. I'd ask for night shifts that allowed me to attend KPL camps, and train during the day. Getting leaves altogether was difficult."
Koushik persevered and often met with rejection. Breaking into the Karnataka senior set-up proved hard. For four years, he sat out of the first XI during the pre-season tournaments. That pushed his career back.
"Recently, I was chatting with Prasidh [Krishna]. He made his first-class debut [against Bangladesh A] in 2015, but only made his Ranji debut in 2018. I was surprised knowing it took him that long. To come up and play at the Ranji level here itself is a big thing. I'm grateful for the struggles. But somewhere I feel, had I made my debut at the age of 22-23, as against 26, it could've been different."
What could have also been different, around the time he was making a mark, was his career trajectory had the Covid pandemic not happened. Koushik popped his shoulder and spent months recovering from a bicycle accident.
"It was a slap tear," he says. "It was painful and I was out of action for three-four months. Not that there was any cricket happening. I just happened to get lucky it came during the Covid break. Who knows, had cricket happened and I missed much of that period, I may or may not have had the chance to come back. It's not just the injury pain that haunts you."
Post-Covid, Koushik found himself under the pump again with the selectors looking at a few other options. After a brief lull, he returned for the knockouts of the 2022-23 season. Just as he looked set to take off, he was laid low by an injury. M Venkatesh, his replacement, picked up a five-for in the quarter-final. When Koushik was passed fit, he wasn't sure if there was a place for him again.
"I'd been forced to miss the quarter-finals because of a back injury, and Venkatesh came in and did wonderfully," Koushik says. "I thought he was an obvious pick for the semi-finals. While I was happy for him, I was deep down upset that I may not get a chance. It was a massive game against Saurashtra.
"I was quiet at training when Mayank [Agarwal] came up and asked me what was wrong. I told him this is what I'm thinking. 'I've had to fight injuries, bide time; when I start to do well, I get injured. Will I get another chance?' He put his arm around me and said, 'You're playing. I have full belief in you. Just give it your best crack.' He sometimes has more belief in me than I have in myself. It's great to have a captain like him."
Koushik doesn't have too many expectations at this age, apart from being part of title wins. It used to upset him massively that he hadn't even come up for bidding at the IPL, but he now understands there's no point beating himself for it.
"I had an offer to do Kannada commentary in the IPL, I took it," he says. "Yes, you want to play in the tournament. I've trialled with Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals. It went great, but I don't know what happened. I've stopped worrying about it now."
During the off-season, Koushik works with the Central Tax and Customs office. From July to March, he's playing club or state cricket. The two months of IPL have opened a window for an alternate career. He's happy with how things are.
"We all think this way - how much ever we have, sometimes we feel it can be better, no?" he says. "But again, look. I realise so many even struggle to make the Ranji level. I'm a regular now, so I just want to enjoy the opportunities I get and derive joy from doing well. Whatever opens up post that, we'll see. I've never been one to shy away from challenges. I'm sure I'll tackle whatever comes my way even now."

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo