Exclusive: I hope to lead the Bengaluru Blasters to a title win this season, says upcoming pacer V Koushik
Cricket in Karnataka has seen a meteoric rise with each passing year. Several players from the state have gone on to represent the country at the senior level, while a few others have earned a name with consistent performances in the domestic circuit.
Undoubtedly, one of Karnataka's biggest strengths has been the continuous unearthing of talent in the pace department. Right from the time of Dodda Ganesh, Venkatesh Prasad and Javagal Srinath to the current crop of Sreenath Aravind, Vinay Kumar among others, the Southern state has never been devoid of quality pacers.
One among these names who have excelled is Bengaluru Blasters' star pacer V Koushik, who has already left a mark with his tremendous consistency in the shortest format of the sport.
To climb up the ladder and seal a spot in the senior state team is no child's play and the 26-year old knows the value that consistency brings with it, as he sets his eyes on yet another fine show in the upcoming Karnataka Premier League 2019.
Sportskeeda caught up with V Koushik in an exclusive chat where he charts his journey from tennis ball cricket to the challenges of leather ball cricket, his experiences in the KPL and a lot more.
I started playing cricket with my father in the beginning and then played with my school friends. My first introduction to leather ball was when I joined the academy at the RWF cricket ground when I was in 5th standard. I was not too serious about the sport to start off with and was only representing my school, Kendriya Vidyalaya RWF.
For a youngster who was not too keen about the game, Koushik also found some genuine interest in learning about tennis but stuck to playing cricket. For the first few years of his young career, he bowled off-spin and was a vital part of his team's batting order.
For the school cricket team, I used to bowl off-spin and batted in the top order, at No.3. Until I was about 16 years old, I continued bowling spin until I was smashed all over the park in a certain tournament. That's when I made the switch from spin to medium pace.
The change did not come without prior experience though, as Koushik claims that he was used to bowling medium-pace with the tennis ball and the switch was relatively easy. Yet, it was only after a couple of years post his pre-university degree that he realized that he could indeed chart out a career in the sport.
It was only after my pre-university education, when I joined college that I realized that I could make a career out of cricket. Even then, I was playing only club cricket but during the 2014 domestic season, I was selected to play at the zonal level and finished as the second highest-wicket taker in the U-25 SA Srinivasan Memorial tournament.
On the back of an impressive show, Koushik was fast-tracked into the U-23 team, without having played any of the junior level domestic tournaments. However, with a keen eye on excelling in studies, he had to make a few sacrifices.
That year, the state probables were announced and I was picked to represent the U-23 team. This was the first tournament where I was set to represent the state but the issue, however, was that I would never skip my exams and would miss many matches.
Despite missing out from a majority of the action during his engineering days with the reputed Sri Venkateshwara College of Engineering (SVCE) in Bengaluru, Koushik ensured that he had his basics in the right place and when he was picked for the U-25 side, he made a telling impact.
Post the U-23 level, I was selected for the U-25 team. There was a South Zone tournament in Ananthpur where I finished as the highest wicket-taker for Karnataka. I picked up 11 wickets from five games and led the team to a win.
Unfortunately for the pacer, he was hit by a series of injuries that saw him miss out from a whole year of playing at the U-23 level. More importantly, his ability to contribute with the bat was cut short by a lower back injury early in his career.
At the age of 17 or 18, I was hit by constant lower back pain and from then on, I stopped concentrating on my batting and fully invested time in fine-tuning my bowling skills.
Destiny played a major factor all through this as his ability to maintain uniformity with the ball in hand landed him his first major break, as he was picked by the now-defunct Davangere Diamonds squad for the KPL 2010 season when he was just 17 years old.
In 2010, I was picked by the Diamonds on the back of my positive performances against the Malleshwaram Gymkhana. One of the senior members back then, Vijay Chauhan, called me for the Davangere Diamonds tryouts and I was picked by Sunil Joshi Sir and Sanath Sir, who were the big names in the team at that time.
However, Koushik did not play a single game in 2010 and had to wait for the next four years to land yet another contract in the KPL. Having missed out from the action in 2014, the pacer was picked by the Ballari Tuskers in 2015 but made his KPL debut only for the Mysuru Warriors the following year.
I was picked by the Tuskers in 2015 but could not make my debut since there were senior players such as NC Aiyappa and Prasidh Krishna in the team. The next season, the Mysuru Warriors picked me and I made my debut as I went on to play five games that season.
Although Koushik was not in the best of form with just 5 wickets from five games at an economy of 7.72, he continued to make an impact in the domestic circuit and was signed up by the Bengaluru Blasters in the KPL 2017 player auctions.
The pacer was in good touch as he repaid the faith invested in him with 8 wickets from six matches at an economy of just 6.41. Yet, his best show came in the 2018 edition of the KPL as he picked up 8 wickets from six games at a jaw-dropping economy of just 4.67 and a commendable average of 12.25.
On the back of his impactful bowling effort that took the Blasters till the summit clash, Koushik was picked to represent Karnataka in the 2018 edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy. Admittedly surprised by his inclusion in the squad, the lanky pacer recollected his experiences from the tournament.
I did not expect to get selected, to be honest. I had done well in the KPL and had the best economy for a medium-pacer but Ronit More performed well in the Ranji Trophy and I expected him to continue in the T20 squad. The selectors opted to give him rest and picked some fresh faces such as Rohan Kadam, KV Siddharth, Manoj Bhandage, apart from me in the team.
Yet, all he expected to feature in was against the minnow teams, but what came to be seen was the fact that Koushik was thrust into the role of an imperative pacer of the team.
I came into the tournament with some confidence and I was backed by coach Yere Goud Sir and even Manish Pandey, who was captaining the side. They consistenly gave me chances to play in the XI and doing well against Uttar Pradesh, Orissa helped me get over the butterflies in my stomach at the beginning."
Under Manish Pandey's captaincy, Koushik slowly but steadily improved with each game and finished the tournament as Karnataka's highest wicket-taker with 17 wickets from 10 games at an economy of just 6.36. The pacer heaped praise on Pandey's captaincy that went a long way in infusing confidence into the former before every game.
The Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy was my second outing under Manish. I played under his captaincy during KPL 2016, when I represented the Mysuru Warriors. He knew me personally, knew my strengths and was also supportive and friendly. He fully backed me and gave me the freedom to express myself.
For those who have followed Koushik's journey right from the U-23 level, his smooth action and discipline are what stand out. On quizzed about how he adapts to different formats, he played it down to a whole lot of hard work.
Many people know that my strength is maintaining the right line and length with every ball. Playing in the shortest format of the game, I need to depend on a whole lot of variations, and I am working hard on fine-tuning a couple of different skills.
With yet another exciting season of the Karnataka Premier League slated to commence from 16th August, Koushik is gearing up for leading the Bengaluru Blasters's bowling unit and is looking forward to the challenge.
In the last season, my role was to lead the pace attack and this season, having being retained by the team, I am looking forward to exercise that responsibility once again. Last season we lost in the final, and this time around I will be thrilled if my performance can influence our team's title win.
The Blasters made some impressive signings from the auctions as they roped in senior players such as Rongsen Jonathan and Karnataka's leading run-scorer in the 2018-19 edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy, left-handed opening batsman Rohan Kadam.
Apart from these two stalwarts, the addition of wicket-keeper Sharath BR and a couple of youngsters has added to the balance of the squad, which Koushik believes will be important for the team.
The team looks solid and two of us who have done well in the senior team, Rohan Kadam and I are in this team for this edition. We have a dashing wicket-keeper in Sharath BR, a good senior player in Rongsen Jonathan. Overall, it's looking very good.
Just as he signs off in anticipation of a steaming hot cup of tea, Koushik adds emphasis on a youngster who the Blasters roped in for ₹3.85 lakh, who is touted to set the KPL 2019 on fire with his all-round skill.
Bharath Duri is an exciting all-rounder. He has had a slow start to his career but I have seen him play and he's an exciting prospect. I have played a couple of T20 tournaments with him and he's a good hitter and a decent medium-pacer. Hopefully he comes good in this tournament.
In the opening fixture of KPL 2019, the Bengaluru Blasters will face off against the Bijapur Bulls in the at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru. All eyes will be on Koushik as he soaks in the atmosphere and runs in with the shiny white ball in his hand, with an aim of laying his hands on the silverware on 1st September in Mysuru.