Last friday evening, Dinesh Karthik was asked if he was happy with his dismissal for 91 in the first innings of the Oval Test.
What would come next? “Dinesh, are you delighted with the fact that you’ve missed your century by just nine?”
The query would have stumped anyone but Karthik, an unusually composed young man who has been tipped as a future India captain — as much for his ability to bat without nerves as his ability to talk without batting an eyelid.
Karthik has been batting without batting an eyelid at the top of the order — since his elevation in Cape Town last year, has proved sceptics wrong by firmly establishing himself as an opener.
The move was fraught with danger: Was it right to go to England with just one specialist opener?
And what if MS Dhoni could not keep wickets, due to injury or loss of form? Would then Karthik also keep wickets then?
Karthik admitted before the series began that that would be a tall order, but fortunately, that contingency did not arrive, even though Dhoni was far from impressive when collecting the wobbling ball.
At the top, though, Karthik has been very impressive. Including Cape Town, he has piled up 571 runs at 57.1 (all but one innings was as an opener), and has also got a ton and four fifties at the top.
When he landed in England, he was asked if he had ever before opened in first-class cricket — let alone had any experience of facing the swinging ball. The answer was no, the questioner, an Englishman, could not hide his grin — this one seemed ripe for the slaughter.
That hasn’t quite happened — this lamb can bite.
Karthik’s scores in six innings here have been 5, 60, 77, 22, 91 and 8. He has been flashy, played and missed outside off, has had a bit of luck — but he has also driven with authority, kept his head, alternately grafted and attacked. The aggregate of all that has been 263 invaluable runs.
Karthik and Jaffer’s partnerships here have been 18, 38, 147, 47, 62 and 10 and interestingly, Karthik, by luck or skill, has managed to outscore his more established partner. Jaffer has made 185 in six innings here.
Even before, including the tours of South Africa and Bangladesh, Karthik has been setting the pace at the top — Jaffer’s total in 11 innings, including and after Cape Town, has been 441, at 44.1. Clearly, the specialist has been put into the shade by the novice — which is as incredible as it is creditable.
Karthik himself finds it a bit mind-boggling. On Friday, asked if he had been told at Cape Town that he would cross 50 in each of the next six Tests, would he have believed that, he said he wouldn’t have.
“But now to be in the position I am, I’m very happy!”
Which he was not, he assured his imprudent questioner on Friday, on missing his second Test century. Still, it’s been a season of joy for Karthik and for India, a season of a precious discovery through him.