In my blogging journey thus far, I’ve never really considered writing about anything remotely cricket related. As far as possible, I mostly stick to football and cartoons. While I have written about off-beat topics on occasion, cricket is something that has never really crossed my mind. Perhaps then, it is time that I make another exception to the usual routine.
Its been several years since my craze for the Gentleman’s Game died down. Yet in recent times, I’ve found myself taking a passive interest in my childhood love again. A few years ago, when I was in the United States, I had completely lost touch of the general goings on in the game. Strangely enough, my interest in the game has been rekindled in certain ways by a certain Dinesh Karthik; better known as ‘DK’ these days.
So on to the topic of the article…
The Late 90s and 2000s
During my childhood, I always felt very happy when a Tamil Nadu cricketer got a chance to represent India. While several cricketers have represented the state with distinction throughout its history, very few have tasted lasting success with the national team (NT). A few names come to my mind when I think of Tamil Nadu cricketers who represented India during my childhood. Thiru Kumaran, Sridharan Sriram, Aashish Kapoor, Hemang Badani…. well, I’m struggling to think of names. None of these cricketers had an extended run with the national team and probably rightly so. They may have had terrific careers at the domestic level but never really stood out in their brief appearances with the NT. However, one name really stands out when I think of Tamil Nadu cricketers from that era…Sadagoppan Ramesh !!
The Fallen Promise of Sadagoppan Ramesh
I was never really a fan of any of the other Tamil Nadu cricketers who played for India during that era. Ramesh though, was different. During his brief time with the national team, he clearly showed that he had the ability to play the best bowlers in the world. Moreover, there was an effortless elegance to his stroke-play; the kind that people often associate with the likes of VVS Laxman. I instantly fell in love with Ramesh and rooted for him every time India played. Like most Indian openers from that generation though, he had the infamous technical flaw of ‘fishing outside the off-stump’. This was the reason for so many ‘caught-behind’ dismissals of Indian openers at the time, particularly in swinging & seaming pitches outside the sub-continent.
So, like many players before him, his performances started to drop and eventually he fell by the wayside. He did briefly attempt a comeback to the national-fold but despite great performances at the domestic level and against other nations (for the Board President’s XI), it eventually amounted to nothing. In an interview years later, he did admit to not having the temperament to bat long-innings and notch up very high scores. He said that he was always content with scores of 50 or 60 (apparently a trait of Tamil Nadu players at the time according to Ramesh) and didn’t feel a strong motivation to push for the big scores like West-Zone players. In short, he often couldn’t convert good starts to huge scores; which brings us to the key question.
What does any of this have to do with Dinesh Karthik ?
Enter Dinesh Karthik
After Ramesh exited the picture, it would be a while before another Tamil Nadu cricketer flirted with the national team. In 2004, that moment finally arrived. Krishna Kumar Dinesh Karthik finally made his test debut against Australia. As a talented teenage wicketkeeper-batsman, it was expected that he would be a mainstay of the Indian side for years to come. The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect as India had gone through a succession of keepers after Nayan Mongia. Like Ramesh however, Karthik had inconsistency troubles and often couldn’t convert confident starts into big scores. Moreover, Karthik’s inconsistency shortly coincided with possibly the best thing to happen to Indian cricket in the last decade… MS Dhoni !! Now Dhoni’s legendary career as India’s greatest wicketkeeper-batsman & captain, particularly in the limited overs format is well known. Needless to say, Dinesh Karthik’s chances dwindled and he was dropped soon after, owing to poor form.
Despite his troubles, a recurring theme throughout his career has been his resilience and the ability to make comebacks. A great example of this was India’s tour of England in 2007. After being recalled to the national side, his strong performances in England helped India win the 3-match test series 1-0. To top it all, he was India’s highest run-getter in a squad that had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, MS Dhoni and Yuvraj Singh. While it was clear that he had the talent to cut it with the best in the world, he just couldn’t keep up this run of good form. Soon afterwards, he was once again dropped from the team. He has since gone on to make several comebacks where he has served as a backup to the playing eleven. Once again, like Ramesh before him, most of these comebacks didn’t amount to much despite a few noteworthy performances here and there.
Things have been different for him since 2017 however. There is now a genuine feeling that he may actually be knocking on the doors for a permanent spot in the Indian limited overs sides. So what’s changed ?
Enter DK aka Dinesh Karthik Version 2.0
Dinesh Karthik often goes by the moniker DK i.e. his initials these days. His national team and IPL jerseys read DK and so do his public social media accounts. In what is now a well-known story in cricketing circles, Dinesh Karthik’s true resurgence began ahead of the IPL 2016. With age not on his side anymore and his value in the IPL dropping, DK started to doubt if he could play for India again. So, he sought out the help of Abhishek Nayar who had previously helped Rohit Sharma get his groove back. Nayar helped DK by unsettling his daily routine and making him step out of his comfort zone. He would mix up his training routine, change the time of his training everyday etc. While these changes initially unsettled DK, he eventually embraced it. He became mentally prepared for anything and more composed (as opposed to his usually restless demeanour). Perhaps, this added a layer of unpredictability to his game as well. The results soon started to show.
In the 2016 IPL season with Gujarat Lions, he scored more than 300 runs with his 65 of 34 balls against Delhi Daredevils being a standout performance. He then carried this form with him into the Ranji season, scoring 704 runs in 14 innings with an average over 50. This form continued into the domestic ODI scene with 607 runs in 9 innings at an average of 118. This was further complemented with great performances for the newly formed TNPL (Tamil Nadu Premier League) for his side Tuti Patriots; whom he captained to victory. The selectors took notice and he was picked for the ICC Champions Trophy in England. While he didn’t get too many chances to play for the main eleven during the champions trophy and immediately after, his time would soon come.
The Turning Point
The Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka in March 2018 was the perfect opportunity for the selectors to rest several key players and try out fresh faces & fringe players. Once again, DK didn’t get too many opportunities to play but his time would arrive in the final, under hardly ideal circumstances. With India in a tight spot chasing Bangladesh’s 166, the team management sent in Vijay Shankar to bail out India, in a very bizarre decision. Vijay Shankar had never batted even once for India and sending him in during a pressure situation made no sense. To his credit, he did try to get off a few big shots but then just couldn’t get bat to ball against Mustafizur. Soon after DK walked in to bat with India needing 35 to win from just 12 deliveries. What followed afterwards was the stuff of dreams !!
DK absolutely plundered the Bangladesh bowling with an array of improvised strokes that left the bowlers clueless. Eventually India needed 5 runs to win from the last ball and not even the most ardent fan would have given the team much of a chance. DK wasn’t fazed however, and finished off in style with a 6 of the last ball to send Indian fans world over into ecstasy.
Its unbelievable how a single vital moment can change the course of events. Soon after DK was brought by Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) for more than 7 crores in the IPL auction. Moreover, he was even made the captain of the franchise. Riding a wave of confidence after the Nidahas Trophy, he led KKR to the semi-finals and finished as one of the top run-getters with more than 400 runs.
He has since been a part of most of India’s squads but hasn’t been given too many chances. That, however changed with this Asia Cup. He performed consistently throughout the tournament notching up important runs and building crucial partnerships in tricky situations for India. The only possible blot on his Asia Cup is that he couldn’t convert his solid, confident starts into huge scores despite playing a crucial role for India. He is now emerging as a strong candidate to seal that ‘Number 4’ slot in the India batting line-up along with Ambati Rayudu.
So, what does the future hold for Dinesh Karthik ? If DK continues this run of strong performances for India whenever given the chance, there is absolutely no doubt that he will get to play another World Cup. Perhaps the only thing missing in his long career is an ODI century.
As an ardent fan of DK, I long to see DK hold the bat-up for India in a successful run-chase, possibly in the World Cup final, scoring a big hundred. If his career graph and his resilient mentality are anything to go by, his time will surely come !! Fight on DK !!