On 27 December, 2020, Karnataka announced a 20-man squad for the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. While big names such as Karun Nair, Pavan Deshpande among others unsurprisingly made the cut, young southpaw KL Shrijith found his name on the list - a fitting reward for his years of hard work.
Only hours before the announcement, Shrijith ended KSCA's T20 League tournament as its highest run-getter with 203 runs from five matches, at a strike rate of 133.55.
Currently serving a mandatory quarantine period at a resort in Bengaluru prior to the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Shrijith, in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, spoke about his maiden entry into the senior state side.
"It feels really good to make the side, I can’t express my feeling in words. I can see my family and friends are also very happy for me, and it’s honestly a very great feeling."
Shrijith will be representing Karnataka under the leadership of captain Karun Nair, and his deputy Pavan Deshpande, both of who were a part of the Vultures CC squad that clinched the title at the recently-concluded T20 League.
Having played an imperative role in Vultures CC’s title win, Shrijith reckons the understanding within the team will bode well for him on a personal level.
"That's a good thing to play for such a good club. 9 out of the 20 members in the Karnataka team are from Vultures CC, and it feels like home. With the rest, I've played age group cricket and so it's all the more better. Karun and Pavan have so much experience, I’ve learnt a lot from them over the last 3-4 years, and it’s come in very handy this season."
KL Shrijith keen to grab opportunity with both hands
2017 was a fantastic year for Shrijith, who scored heaps of runs across formats in the domestic circuit. Apart from 700 runs in the league stages, the young left-hander made a telling impact at the U-23 state level.
Shrijith notched up two centuries and one half-century in the 4-day encounters and followed it up with three fifties in five one-day matches. However, with big names free from national duty, Shrijith endured a long wait which lasted throughout 2018 and 2019.
For the upcoming 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali season though, Mayank Agarwal (National duty), Manish Pandey and KL Rahul (Injured) are notable absentees in the Karnataka line-up, opening up an opportunity for Shrijith to stake his claim for a spot in the batting order.
With a solid platform to showcase his talent and, in the process, cement his spot in the side, Shrijith is willing to bat as per the team's demands.
"Depending on situations, I'm ready for anything because I’ve played everywhere. In T20s and ODIs I’ve opened, but basically I've been playing at No.3 or No.4. I’m looking to be flexible because I know there are others as well. I want to be flexible and fit into the role I am given."
KL Shrijith relishing prospect of facing off against 'inspiration' Suresh Raina
Karnataka have been placed in Group A alongside Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Railways, Jammu & Kashmir and Tripura for the upcoming 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali season.
A lot of eyes will be on the Group A proceedings, with former India all-rounder Suresh Raina set to return to action a couple of months after pulling out of IPL 2020 citing personal reasons.
For Shrijith, the Karnataka v Uttar Pradesh is more than just another league stage encounter. Raina will be captaining UP, and the youngster is looking forward to a potential interaction with the CSK star.
"I used to initially follow Suresh Raina a lot. When I think about it (playing against Raina) I get butterflies, it’s crazy. I’ve been following him since his U-19 days, so it’s going to be unreal, hope everything works out well."
While Uttar Pradesh and Punjab do appear strong on paper, Karnataka will house an early advantage. All the Group A league stage matches are slated to take place at the Alur Grounds in Bengaluru, a wicket that the hosts are familiar with.
Shrijith believes the 'home advantage' will help Karnataka this year.
"Each of us have played at least 100 matches at Alur, because everything happens at Alur. So we all know the pitch, but the one good thing will be that it will feel like any other match. We know the wickets better, once we see the wicket we’ll have a fair idea, so we’ll have that home advantage for sure."
After spending quite some time on the waiting list for the last few years, Shrijith now has an opportunity to make an impression with bat in hand. With home advantage in his favour and the backing of the team management, it probably wouldn't be too long before the exciting youngster carves his path towards becoming a household name in Karnataka cricket.Published 06 Jan 2021, 13:23 IST