For the 28-year-old Krishnappa Gowtham, a series of firsts have come quite late in his career. He was picked for his first 'A' tour to South Africa in August, might play his first pink-ball game for India Red in the Duleep Trophy 2017 in September, and was picked by the Mumbai Indians this IPL season for INR 2 crore; although he didn't turn out for them.
However, in a tournament where a 39-year-old Balachandra Akhil leads Namma Shivammoga and in franchise-based T20 cricket in general, age is reduced to that irrelevant number that's only discussed when there's not much to talk about your performances.
And Gowtham, after his match-defining bowling partnership with Shahbaz Nadeem in the second unofficial Test against South Africa 'A,' has made it all about his performance. It helps that he's an all-rounder -- the rare breed India have always been on the lookout for.
In the KPL auctions, the Belagavi Panthers roped him in for INR 7.2 lakh -- the joint-highest bid this year tied with Amit Verma of Shivamogga -- after an intense bidding war with other franchisees. His returns of 27 wickets from eight first-class games last season including a five-wicket-haul against Hyderabad would have been on the mind of the team owners.
Playing alongside India and IPL cricketers like Stuart Binny and Sreenath Aravind would have helped Gowtham's cause in the inaugural KPL game against the Hubli Tigers. However, an inspired unbeaten half-century by KV Siddharth helped Hubli chase down a modest total of 127 in the KPL 2017 opener on September 1.
The all-rounder gave no excuses for the loss and said that more work had to be done by the batsmen.
"A lot of positives can be taken from this game. Youngsters like Shubhang Hegde came in. He bowled a couple of good balls and almost got a wicket for us. But it is okay. It was a learning process for all of us. We need to work a little more on our batting," Gowtham said after Belagavi's six-wicket loss.
"The surface was a little two-paced, and it wasn't very easy to cope. You can't give reasons when you're playing professional cricket. We need to work on your game and come back stronger and positive," he added.
Gowtham did his bit with the ball, though, after having failed to capitalize on a brisk start (13 off 11), by dismissing Mayank Aggarwal in the 8th over. But a 54-run partnership between Siddharth and Hubli captain R Vinay Kumar took the game out of Belagavi's grasp.
"I didn't do much. (On dismissing Aggarwal)... You're expected to do that when you're a part of the team that relies on you. But maybe, I could have bowled a little better in the last two overs. I could have kept it a little tighter," Gowtham said.
The way he used the phrase 'team that relies on you' showed the confidence that he's gained from two India 'A' campaigns. He was also picked for the practice match against Australia in Mumbai before the Pune Test this February.
Success in those campaigns has paved the way for his maiden Duleep Trophy where Gowtham would play for India Red, who are to be led by Abhinav Mukund.
"(Duleep Trophy) It is a whole different ball game. We're playing four-day games with the pink ball under lights. It is my first Duleep Trophy and it will be a new experience for me. I am looking forward to it," Gowtham was enthusiastic about his maiden pink-ball game.
That, however, also means that his KPL campaign may be cut short. India Red are playing back-to-back games -- against India Green from September 7-11 in Lucknow and India Blue from September 13-16 in Kanpur.
"Right now I'll be going there. I have back-to-back games. And then, probably I might be back by the 17th. Hopefully, I will join my KPL team thereafter," Gowtham said.
The Duleep Trophy might be far distanced from the KPL in terms of the skillset required and the duration of the games, but not too long ago, Gowtham had gone through the grinds of first-class cricket in foreign conditions.
"There are a lot of things (that I learned on the South Africa tour). We were one down and we had to win that game to level the series. It was a great thing that all the team members, as well as the support staff, believed in our strengths. We all played to win the game and it was a great team effort," Gowtham recalled his South Africa experience.
He didn't play in the first unofficial Test in Pretoria, wherein South Africa 'A' outplayed the visiting Indians and won the game by 235 runs.
For the second game in Potchefstroom, the surface on offer was quite uncharacteristic in that it was on the slower side as opposed to the quick surfaces that are the norm in South Africa. Therefore, wickets of South Africa internationals, David Miller -- who he dismissed in both innings -- and Andile Phehlukwayo, would have given the bowler a world of confidence.
"What I learned from the tour was how to bowl on a slow surface. It was very slow and I had to keep it tight. Now, I am confident of bowling tight lines and lengths. I am not overconfident, though, and don't want to do something that I can't do at the moment. Basically, I will work on my strengths and try to improvise on that," he added.
With things moving at a thick pace for the all-rounder within a short span of time, it is obvious that the dream of an India call-up looks more and more foreseeable with every passing series. Gowtham, however, isn't rushing towards it.
"Definitely, when you start playing cricket, everyone dreams of that India cap. Getting a cap, yes, it will be my dream come true moment. I am not rushing through it, though. If it has to happen it will happen," he said.
Gowtham has had his share of struggles as well. After being out of the Karnataka Ranji side for more than two years, he made a stunning comeback last season and with two 'A' level matches and a Duleep Trophy selection under his belt, he would be feeling a lot more optimistic.
It was on the back of the performances in the Duleep Trophy that Kuldeep Yadav made his way to the India squad and Gautam Gambhir earned a recall last season. Gambhir was 34 at the time.
With the scouts always on the lookout for fresh talent and the T20 leagues gaining popularity by the day, one good season with the bat and ball might change things for the better.