Last year Krishnappa Gowtham appeared to be another arbitrary name that appeared on the Board President playing XI against the Australians in a warm-up match at the Cricket Club of India. For the first two days he went unnoticed, but on Day 3 he even had the Australian awestruck with his power hitting. Gowtham smashed Nathan Lyon for four consecutive sixes in a blistering knock of 74 from 68 balls. A week later he was picked in the IPL auction for Rs 2 crore by the Mumbai Indians.
Gowtham had certainly caught the eye of the Mumbai IPL recruiters at the CCI against Australia, but the all-rounder struggled to break into the Mumbai Indians star-studded playing XI. On Sunday evening in Jaipur, playing against Mumbai for his new franchise, the Rajasthan Royals, Gowtham caught the eye of the cricketing world with a composed unbeaten knock of 33 from 11 balls to steer the Royals to victory with two balls to spare.
While Gowtham’s heroics with the bat that stole the limelight, it was also a memorable IPL debut by West Indian fast bowler Jofra Archer. Like Gowthan, Archer too had an impact on the Australians thanks to the Big Bash League this season. Archer finished the tournament Down Under as the second leading wicket-taker with 16 scalps, with most of his victims having their stumps splattered by a searing yorker.
Last night in Jaipur, Archer repeated his performance from the BBL in the IPL by shattering the stumps of Hardik Pandya and Mitchell McLenaghan in the space of two balls to stall the Mumbai Indians late scurry for runs. Archer finished the night with figures of 3-21 in four overs and was declared the Man of the Match on his IPL debut.
The Royals would have been pleased with the sight of two of their lesser known players playing pivotal roles in their victory. To give credit to Gowtham, he has arguably been one of Royals’ most consistent players this season. Above all, he has not been shy of testing his skills during the tough periods of the game. In five of the six matches, he has bowled in the powerplay and done a reasonable job.
A product of the Karnataka academy, Gowtham has been highly rated for his ball striking and for his classical bowling action. It was also his power hitting at No 3 during a series of local T20 domestic tournaments that caught the eye of the domestic selectors. While he might have been used to mauling domestic bowlers, the challenge of facing Jasprit Bumrah and the pressure of a high-octane chase was an opportunity he relished in.
Having watched Bumrah bowl yorker after yorker in the 17th over of the innings, Gowtham stood deep in his crease and minute Bumrah erred in his length, he flashed his blade and found the boundary behind point twice. Then in the final over, with the third man up, he guided a wide yorker from Hardik to the fence. Knowing that Hardik will revert to a length ball, he shifted his weight on the back foot and the minute he saw the length, he pumped it into the stands. It was a classic example of the batsmen understating the psyche of the bowler. It was a sign of the smart cricketing brain that Gowtham poses.
If it was Gowtham’s composure with the bat that was the highlight then it was Archer’s sublime skill that was a feature of the Rajasthan’s bowling performance. For the first five matches the Royals had missed a bowler that had express pace and the confidence of bowling at the death.
Archer is still only 22, but his maturity and cricket smartness are well beyond his years. Sources close to him say he is as good as an athlete as anyone on the island of Barbados. A fact evident in his 18-yard run-up that allows Archer to reach a speed of 25 kmph before gathering himself to send down his thunderbolts measuring in excess of 145 kmph on a consistent basis.
Add to that raw pace, he has a sharp bouncer that has dented a few helmets on the quick surfaces in Australia during the BBL. Then there is the yorker that he delivers from wide of the crease or from close to the umpires. In the last couple of months he has also added the knuckle ball to his armoury. To sum it up, he is the complete package and a player the Rajasthan desperately needed to get back on the paddock, if they are to be force in this line-up.
A serious back injury in 2014 and his omission from the West Indies youth teams left Archer frustrated. At a difficult time, he was cajoled by fellow Bajan and England pace bowler, Chris Jordan, who advised Archer to follow in his footsteps and embark on a future with England by playing county cricket. Having signed with Sussex, then the Big Bash, Archer has been the most sought after T20 bowler in the past six months and he showed why in the win against Mumbai last night.
Amongst their precious skill-set, both Gowtham and Archer have ensured that in upcoming matches there will be slightly less focus on the likes of Ben Stokes, Jos Butler and an Ajinkya Rahane. Archer’s sublime death bowling already seemed to spring Jaydev Unadkat into his best bowling spell of the season.
With Archer returning to the playing XI and Gowtham blossoming as a player, the Royals are starting to look more like a complete team. All they need now is for high-profile picks to find their form and the Royals could well be a force in the second half of the season.