Riding big on self-belief

HARD WORKER: While K Gowtham enjoys the new-found fame, he says he knows how to stay grounded. DH PHOTO/ SK DINESH

It was one of the highlights of the season. Mumbai Indians’ terrific comeback against Rajasthan Royals in the death had put them closer to victory. The defending champions had removed three Rajasthan batsmen without giving away a single run. Tottering at 125/6, Royals’ hopes faded away as they required a daunting 43 of 17 balls. It was another typical high-pressure situation in the Indian Premier League and in walked K Gowtham.

Gowtham’s power-hitting ability was witnessed in domestic competitions but this was a different ball game. Up against the wily and specialist death bowlers like Mustafizur Rahman, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya, it needed smart thinking and some bold executions from the Karnataka player.

What unfolded next was a sensational effort. Exhibiting an array of shots, Gowtham hammered 33 of 11 balls, which included 18 runs of Bumrah in the penultimate over. Rajasthan snatched victory from a precarious position. Gowtham was the hero of the night at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur.

The 29-year-old’s excellent consistency with the ball across all formats in domestic cricket had made him a hot property at the IPL auction in January. But Gowtham’s breakthrough moment in the league had come with the bat. “I was picked as a bowling all-rounder I agree but they knew I could bat. They had done their homework. We had practised all these types of match scenarios, chasing these sorts of targets. I was happy I could take the team to victory. The team management was very supportive. They let players express themselves,” said Gowtham.

But how did he conquer the best in the business? “You can’t think of what the bowler has done in the past. If you do, you’re already putting yourself down. You need to trust yourself and play according to your plan. I thought if I could hit a couple of big ones, we could pull it off,” explains Gowtham.    

Though Rajasthan failed to lift their second IPL trophy, Gowtham enjoyed a decent season, with 11 wickets and a couple of handy knocks. “I definitely feel I have got better as a player after the IPL. My confidence level has grown. I believe on my day, I can do wonders. Nothing else has changed. It’s time to work harder and put in more hours in the training.”

Ever since he scripted an inspiring return in the 2016-17 season, one striking feature of Gowtham’s progression has been his self-belief. No matter what the task is or who the opponents are, he believes in backing himself to the hilt. Gowtham’s body language on the field lifts the mood of the team.

“It’s (self-belief) natural. I have been the same since my junior days. I never needed someone to pump me up. The motivation comes from within. If you look at IPL, though I didn’t play a single game for Mumbai Indians last season, I learnt a lot about the game. This year, I got a chance to express myself. When that happens, your self-belief comes out, you can perform at your best,” he offers.

A change in attitude also helped improve Gowtham’s batting. “I’ve always been a powerful hitter of the ball. But I’ve worked on a few aspects, controlling my aggression on the field. When you’re batting and there’s a rush of blood to the head you might let the team down. I’ve learnt to control that. I have worked on the mental aspect,” he said.

Gowtham was a key member in the Rajasthan set-up but the off-spinner didn’t have an explosive start with the ball. However, it helped Royals that he contributed more in the business end. In the do-or-die against Royal Challengers Bangalore, Gowtham removed the big fish – Virat Kohli — and he calls the wicket a reward for proper planning.

“If you look at players like Virat bhai, on their day they can rip apart any attack. So the margin for error is very less. I just bowled according to our strategy and that was to not give him much room. It worked out. Bowling in the Power Play for an off-spinner is a challenge. The batsmen are going to come hard and there are only two players outside the ring. After the first couple of games, I sat with the coaches and spoke on ways to get wickets than to just contain runs. Earlier I was looking to stop the run flow and wasn’t attacking much,” he points out.   

He had perhaps the best guide in Shane Warne (bowling coach) in the dug-out. “He (Warne) was more about how smart you can think and how alert you can be on the field. Those tips were really helpful,” he says.  

The Rajasthan squad had big names in the likes of Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler. Interacting with them gave him new insights into the game, said Gowtham.

“This was the first time I was interacting with Ben Stokes. If you think they are internationals and you have to be little deferential, I guess it doesn’t work out. Both of you have been picked to play good cricket. It’s all in your mindset. There are a lot of things you can take from them...what are the things they do every day. I went to Ben and asked him how he strikes the ball with so much power. I want to get better. One of things he said was, ‘You just need to hold your shape’,” he recollects.

Gowtham’s rise is any player’s envy. But it hasn’t happened without its share of difficulties. “When you are not doing well, you doubt yourself. Six years back, as 22-23 year old, I had doubts...whether I should continue or not. I did think for a day if I should continue with cricket or give it up totally. But I went and practised and the doubts went away. See, when you’re not getting better financially, you start doubting yourself. But parents were most supportive. I am in a better frame of mind now. There are no doubts when I enter the field and I always back my instincts,” he says.

He loves his growing fame but asserts that there is a constant attempt to stay focused. “This (fame) is what you play for, isn’t it? This is what you live for. But I am mature enough and no more a teen. If you get carried away, one bad game can bring everything crashing down. It’s important to be grounded.”

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