It has been a whirlwind few months for aspiring cricketer Karthik Meiyappan.
He spent two months training alongside some of his heroes, including India captain Virat Kohli, during the Royal Challengers Bangalore's time in the UAE for IPL 2020.
More recently, Meiyappan was offered a central contract by the Emirates Cricket Board, something he says will motivate him "to work much harder".
The young spinner is now set to share the dressing room with another cricket legend, the West Indies batsman Chris Gayle - "the cherry on the cake" - he says.
Gayle is the ‘iconic player’ of Team Abu Dhabi for the fourth staging of the Abu Dhabi T10 taking place next month.
And while the IPL experience was limited to practice sessions with some of the world's best players, Meiyappan hopes to get the chance to line up alongside the likes of Gayle at the January 28-February 6 tournament at Zayed Cricket Stadium.
"After the RCB camp this is like living my dream," Meiyappan told The National. "This is a follow-up of the RCB camp and to share the Team Abu Dhabi dressing room with Gayle and several other international cricketers really is the cherry on the cake.
“This time I might have a chance to be on the field with them and that would be the greatest part of this opportunity.”
The right-arm leg-spinner, 20, will be reunited with some familiar faces for the Abu Dhabi T10.
The South African all-rounder Chris Morris was part of the RCB squad for IPL 2020 while Meiyappan has bowled to England’s Luke Wright in the nets at the Zayed Cricket Academy.
He has also played against Nepal’s Kushal Malla, who is in the Team Abu Dhabi draft, two years ago when representing the UAE development team.
The second-year Commerce undergraduate at the Manipal University in Dubai is one of seven youngsters to receive central contracts from the ECB last month.
“Cricket has definitely grown a lot for me in terms of recognition and getting a contract is a new thing and being in the first of the lot it feels good, more like an assurance that motivates me to work much harder,” Meiyappan said.
“The T10 is the cherry on the cake for what has been happening in the past few months of my cricket. It gives me an opportunity at a global scale to showcase my talent.”
Meiyappan began his junior cricket at the Zayed Academy where he spent five years and was a member of the side that won the inaugural National Academies League in 2017.
“It feels good, like coming back home, where I started my cricket and spent five wonderful years at the Zayed Academy before I relocated to Dubai when my father changed jobs,” he said.
Meiyappan's love for cricket was inherited from his father, a leg-spinner who played with former UAE international Murali Sockalingham in the Division 1 in Madurai District.
“I use to take Karthik for the matches but never pushed him to play cricket,” the senior Meiyappan said when asked if his son who bowls similarly, picked up the style by watching him play.
Qazi Ayub, the former head coach of Zayed Academy, could see Meiyappan's potential almost immediately.
“Karthik belongs to one of those with the natural talent to join the academy,” Ayub said.
“He was bowling a good line and length consistently, and bowled the googly, which was his main weapon. He became the team’s strike bowler and even opened the bowling to give his side the early breaks.
“Karthik has now developed his cricket all-round through his commitment and hard work, and I'm glad to see him emerge as one of the top young cricketers in the country.”