It was the year 2013 when Karnataka had started the season with less than an outside chance to make the final of Ranji Trophy, leave alone winning it against multiple-time champions Maharashtra. Among the performances that backed the resolute performance staged by Karnataka was that of wicketkeeper-batsman CM Gautam.
His remarkable 943 runs that season were studded with two splendid double-centuries. The first one was 257 against Vidarbha and the other was an unbeaten 264 against the formidable Maharashtra side, which was recorded as the second-highest score by a wicketkeeper, only behind that of Saurashtra's Sagar Jogiyani, who had scored 283 against Gujarat that season.
Gautam had a wagonload of runs including a ton against Tamil Nadu (130) – these feisty knocks were often built on patience, resilience and hard-work subtly complimented by his ethics as a player.
With a string of consistent performances in domestic cricket, which also included his crucial role in Karnataka's success at the Irani Trophy in 2014, CM Gautam became a name to reckon with in first-class cricket, so much so that he also bagged a contract with Tenvic, a sports management company founded by leg-spin legend Anil Kumble, along with compatriots from state unit S Aravind and Vinay Kumar.
Cut to 2019 – his arrest on 7 November by the Central Crime Branch in an alleged spot fixing scandal during the recent Karnataka Premier League came as quite a shocker to those who have watched this committed cricketer evolve from his YSR State League days in 2006-07, when he got six centuries in a row. His efforts in this league had earned him a spot in the state side that was touring Australia for the Emerging Cricketers Tournament organised by BCCI in association with the Karnataka State Cricket Association.
"Gautam was always a dependable player," his childhood coach from KIOC where he honed his skills as a cricketer had told this writer when discussing about one of Gautam's fine knocks back in the glory days. He had continued to state, "Even as a 11-year-old kid, I remember how he won a match for KIOC but ended up throwing away his wicket. He was batting well at that time but just gifted away his wicket. Though we won, I punished him and made him do German-drill around the ground but look what an amazing batsman he turned out to be."
He indeed is a fine batsman, rarely flamboyant in his pursuit unlike many of his contemporaries from Karnataka. Grounded as a person, soft-spoken and respectful – it was not hard to miss that he was from a humble background – his father was a former state footballer and played for Hindustan Aeronautical Limited (HAL).
Though not the one with an attitude or temperament for the slam-bang T20 cricket, he did receive call-ups from Royal Challengers Bangalore and even Mumbai Indians but it was with Delhi Daredevils that he cherished his days in IPL as he was groomed by Sir Viv Richards during the league’s sixth edition. “It was superb two months. There was a lot to learn and the experience was tremendous. Though I didn't get to play as many matches as I would have liked, Sir Viv Richards gave a lot of importance on body language and the right attitude,” he had said in one of the interactions following IPL that year.
The same year when he topped the charts with highest-season tally in Ranji by a wicketkeeper, Gautam was rewarded with a place in the India ‘A’ squad to play a warm-up game against Australia. With the likes of Parthiv Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik – all wicketkeeper batsmen in the reckoning for a place in the Indian Team, Gautam perhaps would have never made the cut but sometimes, just sometimes, you would think luck may have its way. But it was never meant to be.
While Gautam's arrest along with fellow teammate from Bellari Tuskers Abrar Kazi, once a budding talent in the state, may lead to an early end to his career (his current contract with Goa for the upcoming domestic matches terminated soon after his arrest) there is no doubt that the latest development in the spot-fixing saga has cast a shadow over Karnataka cricket.
KPL was an ambitious pet-project of Brijesh Patel, the then secretary of KSCA now the chairman of IPL, with the sole purpose of finding talent who can be propelled into the national scene but little would he have ever imagined that it would come under the radar of CCB sleuths. For a state that prides itself on the illustrious and untainted careers of Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Gundappa Vishwanath, these arrests should be enough reason for the administrators at KSCA to trade their guns on cleaning up the sport before it’s too late.
(Nandini Kumar is a former sports journalist with DNA, Bangalore Mirror and New Indian Express. She currently leads content at WordsWork LLP and heads communications for Hockey India and Laureus World Sports Awards – India operations.)
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