June 21, 2022: At an age when most cricketers are retired or at least contemplating retiring Dinesh Karthik is playing the best cricket of his career. It is not easy for a 37-year-old to excel in T-20 which is fast becoming a young player’s game and it is to the credit of the Chennai-born wicket keeper batsman that he is not just commanding a place in the shortest format but has also enhanced his reputation as a “finisher.”
Anyone else in Karthik’s situation might well have called it a day. He made his international debut around the time that MS Dhoni appeared on the scene and the manner in which the latter sealed his place in the side purely on merit meant that the doors were closed to Karthik. He continued to play first class cricket with distinction, both his batting and keeping being eye catching. One can never forget his acrobatic leg side stumping off Harbhajan Singh to get rid of England captain Michael Vaughan on his ODI debut at Lord’s in 2004. And while his work behind the stumps continued to be of a high order it was his batting that kept improving by leaps and bounds. But could he make it back to the Indian squad especially with competition creeping up from a couple of younger stumpers, besides Wridhiman Saha and Parthiv Patel?
But the selectors could not turn the other way when his dynamism with the bat turned to devastating effect especially in the shorter formats. Batting with absolute freedom and playing the kind of unorthodox strokes from reverse sweeps to switch hits that can turn games on their head, Karthik emerged as a match winner. Even with Dhoni and other keepers around he now transformed himself into a specialist late order batsman and virtually succeeded Dhoni as the “finisher” supreme who was unstoppable in the death overs whether India batted first or chased a formidable target.
Actually he displayed this quality in the very first T-20 India played in 2006. In pursuit of a target of 127 India got themselves into a bit of a tangle when Dhoni got out and they were 71 for three in the 12th over. Karthik came in and immediately took charge with the result that India were home with six wickets and a ball to spare, Karthik’s contribution being an unbeaten 31 off 28 balls with three fours and a six and the man of the match award.
Though he has displayed his skills abundantly in ODIs right now with the focus being on T-20 cricket with numerous games being played culminating in the World Cup in Australia later this year Karthik even in the face of stiff competition has made himself among the first names in the selectors’ list. Indian head coach Rahul Dravid has said that “Karthik is banging the doors down” adding that his recent performances opens options in terms of his long term international prospects.
Dale Steyn is convinced that Karthik should be a certainty for the World Cup. “You play cricketers who are in form and on current form he has stolen a march over Rishabh Pant,” says the former South African speedster. Former Indian opener Wasim Jaffer termed his 55 in the fourth ODI against South Africa at Rajkot as a “masterclass” in the manner he turned around a floundering Indian innings into a situation in which India won the match comfortably. South African spinner Keshav Maharaj is of the view that Karthik is one of the best finishers in world cricket today.
Perhaps his most famous innings in this format would still be his unbeaten 29 off just eight balls with two fours and three sixes while steering India to victory over Bangladesh in the Nidahas Trophy tri-series final at Colombo, a six he hit off the last ball clinching the issue. But there have been several little gems in his CV.
Though he is remembered these days more for his pyrotechnics in the shorter formats of the game it should not be forgotten that Karthik has played 26 Tests over a 14-year-period scoring just over 1000 runs at an average of 25 with a hundred and seven fifties. Basically his has been a story of the never say die attitude, a never give up come what may approach and he has been suitably rewarded. His career is an inspiration to cricketers worldwide.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)