Dinesh Karthik found 17 years of IPL and a bit of himself between unwarranted haste and revived composure | Crickit
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Dinesh Karthik found 17 years of IPL and a bit of himself between unwarranted haste and revived composure

May 23, 2024 01:23 PM IST

Karthik’s frenetic scoring came when he graduated from a man in a hurry to a grizzly, seasoned campaigner whose calling cards became poise, composure, calmness.

And so, he bowed out, not with a bang, but not with a whimper either. As the ball hung in the air for an eternity, Dinesh Karthik had a prayer on his lips. He was aware that with his dismissal with ten deliveries left, Royal Challengers Bengaluru’s designs of flirting with 190 in their Eliminator against Rajasthan Royals were as good as gone. As Yashasvi Jaiswal, nervily, wrapped his hands around the naughty, swirling ball, Karthik threw his head back in disappointment.

Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Dinesh Karthik(AFP)
Royal Challengers Bengaluru's Dinesh Karthik(AFP)

As he walked off, 11 off 13, Karthik might have entertained the sneaking suspicion that he had batted for the last time on the grand stage that is the Indian Premier League. That there would be no fairytale farewell at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, his home ground and the venue of IPL 2024’s Qualifier 2 and Final. That, largely, fairytales and real-life events are mutually exclusive.

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Those fears and suspicions were confirmed an hour and a half later when Rovman Powell smashed Lockie Ferguson back over his head for the winning six that catapulted the 2008 champions to a Qualifier 2 showdown against Sunrisers Hyderabad, and extended RCB’s wait for their maiden title to an 18th year. As the players congregated, Virat Kohli embraced Karthik in a long, poignant hug, the repeated pats of the small man’s head an indication of the affection and respect in which the former India captain holds him.

For the longest of times, Dinesh Karthik looked like a man in a hurry. He wanted to do everything in double quick time, perhaps emboldened by the fact that he was only 19 when he debuted for India in a One-Day International against England at Lord’s. Karthik marked his first appearance for the country with a spectacular leg-side stumping to get rid of Michael Vaughan, the opposing captain, a dismissal that allowed India to sneak a face-saving 23-run victory in a series he had already surrendered.

Karthik’s haste, if one might call it that, didn’t quite work out for him. The arrival a few months later of Mahendra Singh Dhoni forced the Tamil Nadu man to stake his claims as a specialist batter; to his credit, he made a brave fist of it as an opener, slamming a century in Bangladesh and emerging as India’s highest scorer during their 1-0 defeat of England in the Test series in 2007, but he didn’t do enough to nail down a permanent place.

It was in the IPL, however, that Karthik found his true calling. One of only a handful of players to have played in every edition since the tournament’s inception in 2008, Karthik turned out for six different franchises, led Kolkata Knight Riders to the playoffs in 2018 and signed off with a flourish for RCB, his last three-year stint with the franchise making up for an indifferent 2015 season when 16 matches netted him only 141 runs.

One of his great regrets, he recently told his India and Tamil Nadu colleague R Ashwin, was not wanting to be retained by champions Mumbai Indians at the end of the 2013 season. He had smashed 510 runs to help Rohit Sharma steady a sinking ship, but flush with the confidence (?) that only comes to 20-somethings, he went back to the auction. His returns only peaked in 2018 when 498 runs drove KKR to the playoffs, but Karthik’s remained a career less fulfilled until his final hurrah, at RCB.

Ironically, Karthik’s frenetic scoring came when he graduated from a man in a hurry to a grizzly, seasoned campaigner whose calling cards became poise, composure, calmness under pressure, a certain studied approach to the sport that came through hours of mental conditioning. More acutely aware of his strengths, and his limitations, he got down to business with intelligence, commonsense and commitment. His long involvement with the game, and stints in the commentary box with acknowledged legends, offered him insights that he put to exceptional use. He is no Andre Russell or Kieron Pollard, but for a small man, he packed quite a punch. He targeted areas he knew he could clear, his game-sense and awareness touched unprecedented heights and he slipped into that extraordinarily challenging role, of a Finisher, as if born to do so.

A terrific first comeback season for RCB in 2022 brought him back into India’s T20I squad after three years. But if one though 330 runs in 16 innings (strike-rate 183.33) would be the pinnacle, well… Karthik smashed 326 in 15 knocks (SR 187.36) in his farewell year. The Player of the Match in India’s first T20I, in 2006, will now swap the bat for the mic. But the sixes will keep coming, rest assured.

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