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Karthik Meiyappan soaks in World Cup glory and dreams of more

The UAE legspinner talks about his hat-trick against Sri Lanka, his time as a net bowler in the IPL, and about rubbing shoulders with big-name players in the Abu Dhabi T10 league

Deivarayan Muthu
Karthik Meiyappan: "I feel the wrong'un is the weapon with which I back myself to deliver eight or nine out of ten times"  •  ICC via Getty Images

Karthik Meiyappan: "I feel the wrong'un is the weapon with which I back myself to deliver eight or nine out of ten times"  •  ICC via Getty Images

Karthik Meiyappan was in a trance when he claimed a hat-trick against Sri Lanka in the men's T20 World Cup last month. He only began to realise what he had achieved when he got together with his father and then when he visited his extended family in Trichy, Tamil Nadu.
"Definitely, it [the hat-trick] took some time to sink in," the 22-year-old UAE legspinner says. "When I came back home to Dubai, it slowly started kicking in that I actually pulled off something spectacular.
"The family support I've had over the years is incredible. To come back home and for them to let it sink in was the best part. I can be vulnerable in front of my family. Expressing my emotions then - it couldn't have been better scripted."
Karthik's father, PL Meiyappan, was also a legspinner, who played league cricket in Tamil Nadu before moving to the UAE for work.
"My dad wanted to continue to play cricket and even got picked for his university side [in Madurai]," Karthik says, "but I think the family couldn't support him at the time and that's how his cricket [career] got cut short.
"It's probably something he lives through me and I'm sure he's a proud father."
Karthik is a modern wristspinner who bowls into the pitch and gets his googly to turn and fizz more than his legbreak. It was those wrong'uns that took out Bhanuka Rajapaksa, Charith Asalanka and Dasun Shanaka in the 15th over of Sri Lanka's innings to make him only the fifth bowler to bag a hat-trick in a men's T20 World Cup.
"Obviously, when I was bowling to the lefties [Rajapaksa and Asalanka], my plan was to take it away [from them] because I felt like they were more leg-side dominant and have a better range of shots on the leg side, especially Rajapaksa," Karthik says.
"When Asalanka walked in, Vriitya [Aravind, the UAE wicketkeeper] asked me whether I wanted to slip in a legspinner, but I was feeling like he was coming from a bad patch of form, so again I backed myself to bowl my best ball. I told Vriitya I'll back my wrong'un again and luckily it pitched in the right spot.
"Then when Shanaka walked in, even Vriitya had no doubt what I was going to bowl, so I just went about bowling the wrong'un once again and got him through bat-pad."
Karthik, who started out as a seamer, imitating Brett Lee's action as a boy before realising his body couldn't withstand the load of fast bowling, explains that googlies come easier to him than legspinners because of how his action is set up.
"I'm more perpendicular and 12'o clock, as they say. For me, bowling the googly is easier than a legspinner because of the leverage I get on the ball. It's easier to snap my wrist and fingers to bowl the wrong'un. Legspin is something that I back myself to bowl as well, but in T20s, I feel the wrong'un is the weapon with which I back myself to deliver eight or nine out of ten times."
Karthik dabbled with offspin and legspin before becoming a quick legbreak-googly bowler - a species that is much in demand in T20 cricket these days. But before taking up cricket professionally, he was quite seriously into chess, even playing some inter-state tournaments in Tamil Nadu.
"Chess is something I inherited from my family," he says. "My grandfather and my uncle play chess and sport has been in the family background. When I was living in Coimbatore for two years, I was just playing gully cricket then. Chess was something that caught on [for me] because I'm very eager at grasping things by just observing. My dad also played chess, and [when] my mum put me in coaching in Coimbatore, I found it was something I could do. My parents tried to put me through a professional programme, but they [the organisers] requested that I stop my education and focus only on chess, which we couldn't at that point. Chess was something I love, but once I moved to Dubai [in 2007], it wasn't a big thing here, so I moved to cricket."
Karthik made his international debut for UAE in 2019, and since then though he was part of touring sides, didn't get many chances in the XI - until this year. He believes his three-wicket haul against Singapore in the Asia Cup T20 Qualifier in Al Amerat earlier this year, and a stint with former offspinner and current Tamil Nadu coach M Venkataramana in Chennai, have transformed his career.
"I think that was the real turnaround for me," he says of that game against Singapore. "Ever since the game, I feel things have been going well.
"I came down to Chennai for a month and worked with Venkataramana under Robin [Singh, the UAE coach] sir's guidance. He kind of tweaked a few things in my bowling, which really came in handy for me. The hat-trick is the icing on the cake because there was a lot of work behind it."
Karthik has also had stints as a net bowler with Royal Challengers Bangalore and Chennai Super Kings in the IPL, getting to work with Sri Lanka legspinner Wanindu Hasaranga and his hero MS Dhoni.
"Shane Warne is someone I've looked up to, but lately I've been watching Wanindu closely. The way and the style we bowl is similar, so I try to pick up a lot of things from his bowling. And then suddenly I started celebrating the way he did. I took my celebration off Wanindu - and not Neymar - and even told him after the game against Sri Lanka in the World Cup that I copied his celebration.
"Before the Ireland series [in October 2021], I had a stint with CSK. I spoke to MS Dhoni about how I could handle them sweeping the ball because Ireland are more of sweepers. So, he gave me advice and, like I said, you're learning off the best."
Karthik now has a chance to show his wares in the T10 league in Abu Dhabi, which begins this week. It is a tournament that he believes has helped bridge the gap between domestic and international cricket for UAE's players. The league could also potentially be a shop window for the inaugural ILT20 in the UAE in 2023.
"Practising with international players is different from competing against them. There is lots to learn and you get used to that exposure, which is important to bridge the gap between an Associate team and a Test nation. T10 is a short format, and at the end of the day, as a bowler you still have to be aggressive and look to dominate the game, which is something I like."
He's looking forward to playing alongside Shanaka and Rajapaksa for Chennai Braves in the league - and remind them that they were his World Cup hat-trick victims. "Even before the World Cup started, when we had the welcoming lunch, I spoke to Shanaka and [Maheesh] Theekshana about playing together at Chennai Braves, but now I will go to Shanaka and have a few words about the hat-trick ball, for sure." (laughs)
With a T20 World Cup hat-trick against the Asia Cup champions, has Karthik made his case for a promotion from net bowler at Chennai Super Kings?
"It hasn't crossed my mind yet," he says. "But if I get my process right and my results going, it will be a by-product. It will happen, if it's meant to be. Obviously, I've put myself out there and my chances now might be better than what it was before, but I would not push my imagination. Whatever opportunity comes my way, I will definitely take it with two hands."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo