In the 2018/19 edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Karnataka under the leadership of Manish Pandey exhibited sheer dominance as they remained unbeaten in all the games on their way to the final, where they rode on half-centuries from Mayank Agarwal and Rohan Kadam to clinch their first-ever T20 title.
While Mayank Agarwal starred in the final, southpaw Rohan Kadam was one of the major driving forces behind Karnataka's title win, as the left-hander amassed a whopping total of 536 runs from 12 matches at an average of 53.60 and a commendable strike rate of 129.78.
Such was his prowess with the bat at the top of the order that he notched up five half-centuries from the competition and was a force to reckon with once set, which made him Karnataka's 'X-factor' all through the season.
With Karnataka beginning their title defence on 8th November 2019, Sportskeeda caught up with 25-year-old Rohan Kadam in an exclusive chat as the southpaw spoke about the challenges of starting the season as defending champions, his personal targets, a potential IPL 2020 contract and a lot more. Excerpts below -
To begin with, I don't think there is any pressure on us despite being the defending champions. We have a very good team in place, and having recently won the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the confidence levels are high as well. Most of our players are in top form, and I feel that the other teams will be under pressure to perform well against us.
The previous edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India's premier T20 trophy brought the best out of the left-hander as he was in stellar form at the top of the order, and led Karnataka to a number of wins. On quizzed whether the expectations from him will be a lot higher for this season, Kadam played it down to sticking to the task at hand.
I am enjoying my current form and I will look to give my best in every match. The main focus is to help the team win by scoring a whole lot of runs, and the expectation from each player in the side will be the same, which is to contribute to the team's cause.
Given that big names such as Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal will be missing out from action for the first three games, the onus will be on youngsters in the batting unit to share the responsibility of scoring a bulk of the runs.
Kadam claims that playing together at the club level will help him and the rest of the batsmen in the team understand each other's strengths, to pile the pressure on the opposition bowlers and stave away the challenges posed by the absence of the key players.
We all play club cricket together in the local circuit, and as a matter of fact, Nihal (Ullal), Devdutt (Padikkal) and I play for same club. We understand each other's strengths, and these guys are coming into the tournament on the back of some great form. Samarth is a class player who has experience from playing at the India A level, so he will be an important player for us.
On the bowling front, Karnataka will be missing the services of warhorse R Vinay Kumar, but Kadam believes that Abhimanyu Mithun and V Koushik, who are coming into the competition on the back of a good show from the Vijay Hazare Trophy are more than capable of leading the bowling unit, in addition to the exciting talent of left-arm seamer Prateek Jain.
Vinay Kumar will be missed, but guys like Mithun and Koushik are two top-class bowlers who are also fresh off a title-winning Vijay Hazare Trophy campaign. Prateek is an exciting bowler who has done well in the local circuit this year, and I'm sure he will make the most of the opportunities handed out to him.
One of Karnataka's biggest calling cards over the past few years has been the rich pool of all-rounders in the squad, and this time around, the squad boasts of some big names. Besides, with Karun Nair also in line to score a few runs under his belt, Kadam feels that a few of his teammates could be game-changers throughout the season.
Gowtham has done very well in the recent past and he will be a key player for us with his all-round abilities. Karun Nair also didn't score too many runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, and he will be itching to get among the runs. I sincerely hope he does well and leads us to some important wins.
Placed in Group A for this edition of the T20 competition, Karnataka will square off against Uttarakhand, Baroda, Andhra, Services, Bihar and Goa. While Karnataka's qualifying chances into the second round appear quite strong, Kadam is quick to point out that the T20 format is capable of producing some tense moments which his side will need to wade through.
Baroda could be the only big challenge for us and to some extent, Andhra could pose a few problems. However, T20 is a very tricky format, and yet I feel that we have a strong team which can win us tight matches.
With cut-throat competition for a spot at the top of the order in Karnataka cricket, Kadam has quickly risen up the ranks to make an impression with his aggressive style of play and has matched the likes of Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul with his unique batting style.
The southpaw, who has made the most of the opportunities presented to him is certainly prioritising leading his side to a second consecutive title win, but also has his target set on landing an IPL 2020 contract with a fine show from this edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
This season is very important for me personally, because the IPL 2020 auctions will be held in December. If I do well in this edition of the T20 tournament, I have a good chance of earning a contract in the IPL and from there, a spot in the India A squad which will only take me higher up the ladder. But the key is to focus on the present, which for me is to score runs and win games for Karnataka.