There is a quirky smile on his face as he approaches the table. The recent success has not sullied his childlike innocence but he looks a bit edgy, nervous maybe.
As we settle down for the interview, a bunch of impish teenagers are huddling up right behind us.
Life has changed completely for 22-year-old leg-spinner KC Cariappa, who shot to prominence after Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Kolkata Knight Riders bagged him for a whopping Rs 2.4 crore in 2015.
Asked about his reaction when he found out about the bid, Cariappa sheepishly replies: ”Everyone watching the auction (back home) was shocked.”
” I was not thinking about the money; I just wanted to play in the IPL. But the bids escalated fast which surprised me (as well). Everyone was really happy.”
His eyes lit up, as he spoke, dulling the early nerves. There was a certain poise in his voice by now; the confidence was palpable.
Reminiscing the days when he got his first major break with Karnataka Premier League (KPL) franchisee Bijapur Bulls, Cariappa says: “I started my career with Karnataka Premier League (KPL) in 2014. I performed well there and KKR gave me a chance to play in the IPL.”
Jacques Kallis, one of the game’s greatest all-rounders and KKR’s present batting coach, spoke highly of Cariappa’s ability as a spinner.
Tell him that and throw in the fact that he came from the wilderness, and he starts beaming broadly. “After KPL, I went to the KKR camp for fifteen days,” he said. “When I was there, I bowled to Jacques Kallis and Gautam Gambhir. They were really happy [with my performance] and told me that I bowled like Sunil Narine. They gave me tips to improve my bowling.”
Cariappa could quite easily be just another youngster practising at the Mumbai maidan, or a tall, well-built man, taking wild swings at the tennis ball, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. He does not have the aura of a sports star or the affability of a brand ambassador, and that is his charm. He is one of us.
His tryst with cricket is something that every young fan would identify with. “From childhood, I was playing cricket but not professionally,” he said.
“I used to play on the local pitches, like all the kids. But one day my father took me to a club where I got a chance to play some (competitive) cricket. From there, I got more interested in the game.”
Cariappa, who thinks his time in the IPL has really helped him with his fitness, reflects: “Fitness is the main thing. I was not fit for the first two-three years when I started playing cricket but when I went to play the IPL, (the training) that changed everything.”
Playing in the cash-rich T20 league has propelled this young leg-spinner from anonymity to a household name. But things were not always this rosy for Cariappa. “I come from a poor background. (An IPL stint) and so much money has helped my family also. I am very happy,” the visibly contented leggie said.
Asked about the KPL, a thrilled Cariappa said : “KPL is a big thing in Karnataka. From here, so many players have played the IPL also; like me, Shivil Kaushik and Kishore Kamath. This is a platform for us. KPL has changed my life.”
In 2016, the Bijapur leg-spinner was picked up by Kings XI Punjab for Rs 80 lakh. Cariappa , who has featured in 13 T20 matches, has 11 wickets at an economy rate of 8.17.
About the prospect of an India cap, Cariappa said: “I should perform well in the KPL and continue doing well in the domestic season and maybe, better things will follow.”
A cordial soul, Cariappa speaks with an endearing honesty. He respects the game for everything that it has done for him and his family.
Perhaps, a team India call is not too far away.