'I was definitely star struck' - UAE spinner's IPL exile with Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and the Bangalore stars

Karthik Meiyappan was very happy to skip his studies for two months

Adam Zampa and Karthik Meiyappan discuss leg-spin bowling at training in the IPL. Courtesy of Royal Challengers Bangalore
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Most 20-year-old university students do not need much of an excuse to skip lectures. But Karthik Meiyappan definitely had a very good one for foregoing the best part of two months’ worth of study this term.

He had an important job to do instead. Namely, helping out Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers and the rest of the stars of Royal Challengers Bangalore during their IPL exile in the UAE.

The young UAE leg-spinner was called in to train with the franchise as a net bowler midway through September, and stayed with them until their campaign ended in the playoffs.

To do so meant two Covid tests, then a week-long quarantine in his room at the team hotel on Palm Jumeirah, before introducing himself to some of cricket’s most recognisable faces.

“I was definitely star struck,” Meiyappan said of his first encounter with the other players after exiting his room.

“The first time I met them was at the breakfast table, and I couldn’t take my eyes off Virat Kohli and AB.

“My eyes were glued to them whenever we were at breakfast, and it took me at least a week to settle down.”

Meiyappan says going up and chatting to his new colleagues would have been an ordeal if there was not a familiar face there to help out.

Ahmed Raza, the UAE captain and fellow spinner, was also enlisted by the franchise as a net bowler.

“It felt strange, and having all those legends around made for a daunting first week,” Meiyappan said.

“Having Ahmed there mingling around made it easier, as I am naturally someone who would turn the other way and be shy about introducing myself.

“It was out of my comfort zone, to be honest. But all of the guys were friendly, and I had a lot of good conversations with [RCB's England spinner] Moeen Ali.

“He is a genuine guy who is great to be around. Also Adam Zampa is nice, too. All of the players are very approachable.”

Birds of a feather flock together, so it was no surprise Meiyappan gravitated to fellow spinners like Moeen and Zampa.

He relished the chance to pick the brains of Zampa, in particular, given they are both leg-spinners, as well as Yuzvendra Chahal.

Karthik Meiyappan bowls at nets with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in Dubai. Courtesy of Royal Challengers Bangalore
Karthik Meiyappan bowls at nets with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in Dubai. Courtesy of Royal Challengers Bangalore

And not only on cricket. Meiyappan had excelled at chess before taking up cricket, and he challenged Chahal, who is known as a chess aficionado, to a game. Although that did not come to pass, he was still delighted to be in his company.

“They are contrasting bowlers,” Meiyappan said. “Chahal is someone whose strength is the spin he gets off the wicket, while Zampa’s is his pace. It meant I got two different ideas from both of them.

“That really helped me. I’ve definitely learnt a lot from them, strategically and skill wise.”

As if having two months living in the lap of luxury, shooting the breeze with some of his heroes and playing cricket all day was not enough, Meiyappan also achieved something unforgettable in the process.

“Something I’m going to cherish is that I got Kohli out once,” he said. “That was a lucky day. And then, after that, he absolutely smashed me.

"The first day I bowled to him, I bowled six balls, got him out, then after that it was all out of the park. Every single ball, out of the park.


Bangalore's last stand


“I’m pretty sure he was annoyed. He wouldn’t show it, but he brings match intensity to his practice sessions, so he doesn’t like getting out, even in nets.”

Like most talented cricketers growing up, Meiyappan – who had been a dyed-in-the-wool Chennai Super Kings fan until this experience – has always aspired to playing in the IPL one day.

He realises it remains a distant dream, but he says at least now he has a better understanding of what is required to get there.

“It's definitely a long shot, but my hunger levels have gone up since I’ve had a taste for what IPL actually is,” he said.

“These two months with RCB have been a great motivation and confidence booster. It shows you have to work harder to get to that level.

“Maybe down the line, in a couple of years, I could have a chance at being in the squad.”