Karnataka 223 for 1 (Padikkal 92, Rahul 88*) beat Chhattisgarh (Khare 78, Koushik 4-46) by nine wickets
Are you an engineer stuck behind a desk nursing a passion for cricket? Are you someone who grew up playing tennis-ball cricket with the dream of representing India one day? Are you someone who still manages to find time from the busy life to play the sport? If the answer to any of these is a yes, you will relate to the story of Karnataka's V Koushik.
A mechanical engineer who once worked for Amazon, Koushik grew up playing cricket on the grounds of Bangalore. Until the age of 17, he was an offspinner but bowled medium pace in tennis-ball matches. Around 2009, towards the end of his school life, he got hammered in a game that forced him to switch to medium pace even with the hard ball.
Fast forward to 2019, he is opening the bowling for his state in the semi-final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Playing in his just fifth List A game, he ends up with 4 for 46 to orchestrate a nine-wicket win to take Karnataka into the final.
Bowling right-arm over, Koushik just floated the ball on a length around fifth stump. He looked totally harmless, hovering around the 127kph mark with hardly any followthrough. As a batsman, you can be fooled into thinking you can face him the whole day without any trouble. But when the Chhattisgarh batsmen tried to take advantage, those innocuous-looking deliveries stung. And there was enough venom in them to leave the opposition reeling at 35 for 3. Despite Amandeep Khare's laboured 78, Chhattisgarh could never recover and were dismissed for 223, with Koushik taking the final wicket.
The target was hardly a challenging one for Karnataka's mighty batting line-up, which was further boosted by the inclusion of Mayank Agarwal. Whatever little hope Chhattisgarh had was further shattered by a 155-run opening standing between Devdutt Padikkal and KL Rahul. Padikkal posted his fifth successive fifty-plus score, and en route to his 98-ball 92 also became the leading run-scorer of the tournament, going past Yashasvi Jaiswal and is now just two short of 600 mark.
Rahul though took his time and even had a life on 25 when Khare put him down at point off Shashank Singh. But once settled, he showed his class and finished unbeaten on 88. Agarwal, coming in at No. 3, took full advantage of the dispirited Chhattisgarh attack, hitting three fours and four sixes in his 47 off 33 balls, and along with Rahul finished the game with ten overs to spare.
But make no mistake, the victory was set up by Koushik. Bowling in the channel and moving it both ways, the 27-year-old accounted for Chhattisgarh's top three. In his first over, he found the outside edge of Shashank Singh with an outswinger. Jiwanjot Singh tried to drive one on the up and was pouched at second slip. Ashutosh Singh nicked off to one that left the batsman after pitching. At the end of his first spell, Koushik had figures of 7-0-18-3.
The overcast conditions in Bengaluru certainly helped in making a simple medium pace bowler difficult to deal with but Koushik's discipline should not be understated. "I basically stick to my strength," he said after the game, "which is to bowl that line and move the ball in and out from there. I think even the best batsmen will struggle if I bowl that way.
"Usually my stock ball is the one that goes away. The one that comes in off the wicket, that's not on purpose."
Talking about his journey, Koushik said: "I used to play cricket just for passion, I didn't know about the league structure or club structure until I was 17. At 17, I started playing league cricket. Later when I joined engineering, I used to miss out on many games due to exams. Because of that, my returns were also not good enough to get me selected for zonals.
"After I finished engineering, I took a break of eight months and that's when I played for U-23 Karnataka. I did well that year and from there it picked up.
"Later I joined Amazon, I worked for one-and-a-half years as a content developer. During that time, I used to play all kind of matches, league matches, corporate matches, whichever matches I could get, I used to play."
In 2010, he was picked by Shamanoor Davangere Diamonds for the Karnataka Premier League but it wasn't until last season that he got a chance to represent Karnataka. Playing in the 2018-19 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he starred with 17 wickets in ten games at an economy of 6.36 in his side's title run. At the start of this month, he made his List A debut in the league game against Chhattisgarh, and on Friday, will be featuring in another domestic final.
Only time can tell Koushik will ever get a chance to play for India. For now, he's on the path many of us dream(t) of taking.