When Dinesh Karthik was ferrying drinks during a match of the 2004 Champions Trophy, he just couldn’t apply the brakes in time and slid straight into Sourav Ganguly, who was leading the team huddle. More recently, on his wedding day in 2015, Karthik fumbled the ring and dropped it, and ended up having to exchange sheepish smiles with his wife Dipika Pallikal.
He might be a restless person – he acknowledges it too – but the Karthik of today is much more reliable than he ever was. He always had the self-belief and now that he’s got the performances to back it up, the Indian team management has decided to give him one of the most important roles in the middle order in limited-overs cricket: the finisher.
Yes, I know what your immediate thought is. Hold on, why did Karthik not finish the Hamilton T20I against New Zealand then? In the final over, bowled by Tim Southee, India needed 16 and they eventually lost by four runs. Karthik received flak from some quarters when he refused to take a single off the third delivery that would have got his partner, Krunal Pandya, on strike.
“I trusted myself to finish it off, but that’s not a bad place to be. That day it didn’t come off, but on other days it has come off”
When Karthik had walked in at No. 7 in a hefty chase of 213, India required 68 off 31 balls. Anticipating the length cleverly, Karthik used the depth of the crease and consequently cracked three sixes in ten balls to help whittle down the equation to 16 off the final six balls.
After managing a double and letting go of a yorker from Southee in anticipation of an off-side wide, Karthik lofted the third ball to long-on, but chose not to get off the strike. Eyebrows were raised. Krunal had clattered Southee for three successive boundaries in his previous over.
With 14 needed off three balls, Karthik backed himself to hit a six, but he could only squeeze a near-yorker to mid-off. Immediately after the last ball was bowled, Karthik walked up to Krunal and apologised.
If he had the chance to do it all over again, would he do it differently?
“Even now, when I think about the single I didn’t take, I feel I can hit that [winning] shot,” he tells ESPNcricinfo. “At the same time, it’s important to trust your partner as well. On that day, I believed I could hit it and structured myself to execute it. It didn’t come off. As a middle-order batsman, when you’re chasing, trying to be the best finisher you can be, you’re bound to make one or two mistakes.
“I trusted myself to finish it off, but that’s not a bad place to be. That day it didn’t come off, but on other days it has come off. Immediately I went and apologised to Krunal; he was also batting very well.”
Karthik is right, in that he has pulled it off as a finisher more often than not. In January, in India’s must-win ODI against Australia in Adelaide, he teamed up with master finisher MS Dhoni and ushered the side home prompting an old friend to tweet…
Just going through some batting numbers of @DineshKarthik over the last 18 months and its not surprising to see that he has become one of the best finishers in the world right now. This version of DK is all that he ever wanted to be, I am very happy for him.#INDvsAUS
— Ashwin Ravichandran (@ashwinravi99) January 16, 2019
So is this DK really the best DK? “I would like to think so,” Karthik says. “At least the results say I’ve been very consistent in the games I’ve been part of. So I’m really happy.”
And the numbers back him up. In the past two years in ODIs, Karthik has been unbeaten in seven out of ten games India have won while chasing. Only Joe Root (nine), Virat Kohli (eight) and Dhoni (eight) have been better on that parameter in this period.
In T20Is in the past two years, Karthik has been on top in terms of chalking up most not-outs in a successful chase. In the seven innings he has batted when India have won chasing, Karthik has been there till the end every single time, making 141 runs at a strike rate of 142.42.
“The more you dread it, the more tougher it becomes for you. The more you try to embrace it, the chances are that the more you will come out on top”
Karthik isn’t a big power-hitter, but has a variety of trick shots like that scoop off a slower offcutter from Marcus Stoinis in Adelaide. He also holds his shape longer these days, often leaning back to hoist the ball over extra-cover. Yes, like that six that clinched the Nidahas Trophy.
“The scoops and laps are always something I’ve always had,” he said. “The timing of the shots is the important part. You can’t use it when it’s reckless, you’ve to use it at the right time. Using the crease is something I’ve consciously worked on.
“If you have your weight back, you can get more elevation. I think those kind of [lofted] shots and execution come out of practice.”
The tag of the finisher brings immense pressure, but Karthik has embraced it, having simulated different scenarios at training with his mentor Abhishek Nayar. In fact, he has learnt to relish the situations where the asking rate balloons because he now has the confidence that he can prick it.
“One of the things you have to deal with is the pressure of expectations,” Karthik said. “It takes time for people to believe in yourself; to believe you can finish the innings. You try and do it consistently and that’s what you aim to do as a batsman.
“And those [when the asking rate rockets past 10] are the types of situations you tend to wait for. The more you dread it, the more tougher it becomes for you. The more you try to embrace it, the chances are that the more you will come out on top, if you keep practising it consistently and do it in games.”
Karthik reckons that the faith the Indian team has placed in him has also helped. After scoring an unbeaten 14-ball 25 at No. 6 in Adelaide, he came out to the press conference and said, “the management has told me this [finsher] is the role for me right now and they want me to do the best I can. They are backing me completely. They have told me that this is where I’m going to bat and this is what they expect out of me and I’m trying to achieve that.”
With the race for the middle-order slots entering the last lap ahead of the World Cup, Karthik says he’s ready to bat anywhere. He draws confidence from batting at Nos. 4 and 5 for Tamil Nadu, having secured the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar Trophy titles for them from those positions in 2017.
“I’ve always batted at No. 4 for Tamil Nadu and I know what is required at that stage, whereas in the Indian team [my role varies] depending on whatever the situation is they pick me and I’m flexible with that,” he said. “In the last game [in Hamilton], Hardik [Pandya] went ahead of me and he played some brilliant shots and after that it was my duty to go and finish the match. So, these are the things I’m used to and whatever the situation is I try and react to it.”
The old Karthik tended to go into a shell after just one failure, but this Karthik is well equipped to bounce back and start finishing again in the seven limited-overs games at home against Australia.