“I am a mystery bowler” – that is all he had to say when asked about himself during his debut IPL performance against Mumbai Indians. It was only two days before that game, Kumar Kartikeya Singh had replaced an injured Md. Arshad Khan and was immediately handed his debut cap. Categorically a left-arm orthodox spinner, Kumar Kartikeya, can also dish out leg-breaks, wrong’uns, fingerspin and even the carrom ball. However, according to his childhood coach Sanjay Bharadwaj, Kumar Kartikeya had particularly trained hard to learn the art of wristspin to be successful in T20s, but also revealed the struggles endured by Mumbai Indians youngster. (Follow IPL 2022 full coverage)
The obsession to master the art landed the 15-year-old cricketer at Bharadwaj’s academy in Delhi, who offered him a trial despite Kumar Kartikeya revealing that he would not be able to pay the fees. “His action was so smooth,” Bharadwaj told ESPNcricinfo. “His use of fingers imparted action on the ball.” But his struggle didn’t end there.
He still had to take care of his fooding. He picked up the work of a labourer in Ghaziabad, which was almost 80km away from the academy. He used to work at night, managed top find a shared lodging facility nearby, and would often walk to the academy in the morning in a bid to save INR 10 for a pack of biscuit.
Bharadwaj then offered him an on-site accommodation where he was given food cooked at the academy. “When the cook gave him lunch, Kartikeya began to cry: he hadn’t eaten lunch for a year,” Bharadwaj, better known as the childhood coach of Gautam Gambhir recalled.
Kartikeya’s progress began, but he failed to make the Delhi team and hence Bharadwaj sent him to his friend and secretary of Shahdol Cricket Association Ajay Dwivedi in Madhya Pradesh and soon was picked in the state team. Bharadwaj later opened his new academy in Bhopal and Karthikeya had a new home, and it was there that he learned the art of wristspin.
“Whenever he is free, he starts bowling in the nets,” Bharadwaj said. “Many a time he comes back from matches in Indore late in the night and gets the lights on and spends the next two-three hours in the nets. His obsession has only grown in the last nine years.”
It was the same obsession that landed him an IPL contract with Mumbai Indians and subsequently a debut cap as well, where he dismissed Rajasthan Royals captain Sanju Samson in his very first over of IPL.