In the past 3 years, if there is a team that has been among the more consistent units in the Ranji Trophy, it is Karnataka and one of the men responsible for their success is Chidambaram Muralidharan Gautam.
The 30-year-old wicket-keeper, who made his debut for the state in 2008, has played 77 matches, scoring 4046 runs at an average of 43.50 and has been part of back-to-back Ranji Trophy winning campaigns in 2014 and 2015.
But cricket was not Gautam’s first love. instead, it was football and it was his uncle, who insisted that he take up the former.
“I started playing at the age of 10. As is the case with everyone, I started by playing gully cricket. After that, my father put me into the HAL sports club where he worked. So I did well there in the summer camp. The coaches there insisted me to join a good cricket academy. That’s when I joined the Karnataka Institute of Cricket(KIC), where I learnt my skills and from there on there hasn’t been any looking back.
“I played a lot of tennis ball cricket, but before that I played a lot of football as well since by father and uncle played a lot of football. It was the latter who insisted that I took up cricket and the rest is history,” Gautam said, in an exclusive interview to Spotskeeda.
In Indian cricket, one has often seen players emerge from age-group cricket and slowly come up the ranks, but in Gautam’s case, it was different as he went up to the Under-19 level, then the Under-22 level before eventually playing for the state.
“I didn’t play much in the junior circuit since the competition was too high. I only played in the Under-19 circuit, was part of the probables for India Under-19.
“After that, I played the Under-22 level. Then I got picked for the Ranji ODI squad. I have always looked up to Rahul Dravid & Adam Gilchrist. I admired the former for his batting and the latter for his keeping,” he added.
The turning point in Gautam’s career came in the 2012-13 season, where he made 943 runs at an average of just under 118, which is still the highest number of runs made by a wicket-keeper in the Ranji trophy.
But despite that staggering achievement, Gautam didn't get the nod to be the number 2 to MS Dhoni in Tests and he admitted to have felt disappointed at not receiving the call-up at the time.
“Obviously, it was very disappointing. The way I was getting runs that year, no keeper has got that much runs in domestic cricket so far.
“I was picked in the India A to play Australia in Chennai. I got runs there as well, After that, I played a few more India A matches and never got a call after that.
“I thought I was ready at that point in time am ready now as well and it was disappointing. I thought I could have made my debut 2013 or 14. I was really confident with my batting at that time,” he said.
We played as a team for those two seasons: Gautam
Elaborating a bit on their success in the 2013-14 and the 2014-15 season, Gautam said that all the players during that phase played with the intention of winning the title for Karnataka and praised R Vinay Kumar, calling him a ‘great captain’.
“If you look at the kind of team we have, we have a brilliant team. Each of them know their respective roles. We were very clear right from the beginning.
“Obviously, Vinay (Kumar) is a great captain, no doubt about it, the credit should go to him. We played as a team, one fine day we decided let’s play for Karnataka. Let’s forget all individual goals, let’s play for Karnataka for one year.
“The same year we won three trophies and we carried that form into the next season as well. Last year wasn’t so great, but that happens in cricket and I am really hopeful that we will bounce back this year,” Gautam said.
One of the key members in the 2014-15 season was KL Rahul, who has been in scintillating form in the past couple for months for India. Speaking about Rahul’s performance, The wicket-keeper said that the 24-year-old was a very hard working lad and he never had any doubts about him not becoming the fine player that he has become.
“Oh, ya he has always been a great cricketer, right from his Ranji debut. He always had a great temperament and technique and he is a hard working lad. I didn’t have any doubt that he will be such a big star today. I always felt that he had that potential to make it big and one brilliant season he had and he kept getting runs after that.
“The way he is batting now, I feel he is one of the best players in the world right now. His batting has gone to the next level and I wish him luck and more power to him,” Gautam said.
The wicket-keeper has also featured in the Indian Premier League and has played for three teams- Royal Challengers Bangalore, Delhi Daredevils and Mumbai Indians and speaking about those exploits, he revealed that he was fortunate to have played for these three teams and sharing the dressing room with some of the greats of the game taught him a lot.
“The first year with the RCB, it was a different experience. I had just got into the first class level and the League was new as well. I didn’t know what was happening to be honest but sharing the dressing room with the likes of Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Kevin Pietersen, I learnt a lot from them.
“Then I moved on to Delhi, I got my first chance there, I did pretty well there and then when I went to the Mumbai Indians, everything changed over there. I played 9-10 games for them.
“I have always been improving, playing the IPL and domestic cricket. Now I am looking forward to play for India and hopefully, if I have a good season, you never know. I must say I am very lucky to represent all three teams. I played under Anil Kumble in the Mumbai Indians or TA Sekar in Delhi.
“Sachin Tendulkar was part of the Mumbai setup as well. He is such a down to earth person. You could go and ask him whatever you want,” Gautam said.
When asked about the goals for the upcoming season, Gautam said that the main objective was to get the champions tag back and on a personal front, he hoped to get some runs under his belt.
“Probably, the first goal is to win the Ranji Trophy and get back the champions tag. I have certain goals for myself as well. I have to start getting runs and from there you never know, anyone could play international cricket,” he concluded.