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Opinion

India's forgotten man who can win them the T20 World Cup

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Roar Guru
6th June, 2020
3

On September 5, 2004, a 19-year-old wicketkeeper from Tamil Nadu made his international debut as India played England in an ODI at Lord’s.

Despite scoring a meagre one off 12, Dinesh Karthik had gone viral after stumping Michael Vaughan in the match.

The image of Karthik stumping the English skipper is something that is cherished by Indian fans and rightfully so, considering how acrobatic the stumping was.

Was a star unearthed in Indian cricket?

Twenty-six Tests and another 93 ODIs later, Karthik finds himself out of the Indian Test and ODI squad. It’s entirely justified. An average of 25 in Test cricket and 30.2 in ODI cricket after that many innings just isn’t good enough considering the talent around Indian cricket.

But to see the veteran out of the Indian T20 team since February 2019 is baffling. An average of 33.25 and a strike rate of 143.53 in T20 internationals is somehow not good enough to be playing in the shortest format for India.

A middle-order batsman, Dinesh Karthik can bat anywhere from five to seven and perform his role. After a seven-year hiatus from the Indian T20 side, Karthik was recalled in July 2017 following strong performances in India’s domestic T20 competition (the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy) and the IPL.

First, let’s look at the other players who have batted at five, six and seven since Dinesh Karthik played his last T20I. These stats refer to their innings in those three positions in the batting order.

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Manish Pandey has averaged 69 at a strike rate of 143.75. Krunal Pandya has averaged 25.5 at a strike rate of 121.42. Ravindra Jadeja has averaged 38 at a strike rate of 161.1. Shreyas Iyer has averaged 11.2 at a strike rate of 100. Hardik Pandya has averaged 14 at a strike rate of 77.7. Shivam Dube has averaged 12 at a strike rate of 120. Virat Kohli has averaged 26 at a strike rate of 152.3. Washington Sundar has averaged zero, with no strike rate. Rishabh Pant has averaged 33.5 at a strike rate of 115.51.

On the other hand, between July 2017 and February 2019, Dinesh Karthik averaged 62.25 at a strike rate of 161.68.

Dinesh Karthik

(Photo by Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)

Since Karthik has been left out, only Manish Pandey has stepped up in the middle order consistently. However, he’s a top-order batsman who’s having to play down the order because of the stability in India’s top four. Because of this, India are a finisher short in their T20 team, and that will cost them in the future.

Between this time period, Karthik batted in 17 innings for India in T20 internationals, with two innings coming at number four while the rest were in the middle order. It’s evident how useful Karthik has been as a finisher in the Indian T20 team. When batting first, Karthik averages 17.25 at a strike rate of 140.81. But in run chases, Karthik averages 65.25 at a strike rate of 145. He loves to be not out in a run chase and take India home.

I’ve picked a few innings where Dinesh Karthik has taken India home in run chases while batting in the middle order.

31 off 28 versus South Africa, Johannesburg, 2006
The game of T20 was an alien concept back then as India played their first ever T20 international against South Africa. After restricting the Proteas to 9-126, Karthik walked in during the 12th over with India 3-71. He knocked the ball around the gaps while hitting the odd boundary. Karthik even played a lap sweep over fine leg to hit a four. Staying until the end, Karthik smashed a six in the final over before scoring the winning run as he was awarded with man of the match for his knock.

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18 off 12 versus Sri Lanka, Mumbai, 2017
On a pitch offering pace and bounce, India were in a bit of strife at 4-99 chasing 136. Karthik did what he does best – knock the ball around and play according to the situation. After taking the game deep, he smashed a six off his 12th delivery to ensure India only needed three runs in the final over. Although he didn’t get man of the match, Karthik had taken India home in a nervy run chase.

39 off 25 versus Sri Lanka, Colombo, 2018
Defending 153 in a 19-over contest, Sri Lanka were fighting hard with India 4-85 in the tenth over. Again, all Karthik did was knock the ball around and then just went all guns blazing in the latter half of his innings. Alongside Manish Pandey (42 off 31), the pair put on 68 for the fifth wicket as India won comfortably by six wickets. On a pitch that was gripping and spinning sharply, Karthik sucked all the pressure out and took India home with ease.

29 off eight versus Bangladesh, Colombo, 2018
This is easily Karthik’s best T20 knock. In the Nidahas Trophy final against Bangladesh, India were chasing 167 for victory. After a see-saw 17 overs, Mustafizur Rahman bowled a wicket maiden in the 18th over as India needed 34 off 12 balls. Surely Bangladesh had won this. Enter Dinesh Karthik. Smashing a six off his first delivery, Karthik smashed Rubel Hossain for 22 runs in the 19th over. With India needing five off the penultimate delivery, Karthik hit Soumya Sarkar over cover for six as India won the Nidahas Trophy. Dinesh Karthik had been in MS Dhoni’s shadow for the majority of his career, but this was his moment, and he grabbed his chance with both hands.

31 off 34 versus West Indies, Kolkata, 2018
With a target of only 110, India probably treated their run chase a bit too easily. The West Indies bowlers were brilliant as India were 4-45 in the eighth over. The pitch wasn’t easy to bat on and Karthik ground India to a five-wicket victory while Manish Pandey (19 off 24) and Krunal Pandya (21 off nine) played helpful cameos.

22 off 18 versus Australia, Sydney, 2018
Chasing 165 to level the T20 series, India’s openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan gave India a solid start. But they started to fall away in the middle overs as India fell to 4-108 in the 14th over. Karthik struggled early, scoring three off nine at first. But just when the required run rate was climbing, he pulled Andrew Tye for six and hit Mitch Starc for a boundary to ensure India needed only five runs in the final over. Although he played second fiddle to Virat Kohli (61 off 41), Karthik showed great composure to string a partnership and hang in there when things were tough as India won by six wickets.

Alongside his brilliant middle-order batting, Karthik solves another problem for the Indian T20I team: the wicketkeeping conundrum. Despite the uncertainty surrounding MS Dhoni, I’d have Karthik over Dhoni in T20 cricket for India. Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson are both talented players and have good T20 domestic records, but it’s risky to have an inexperienced and unproven keeper in a T20 World Cup.

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Plus, Pant and Samson are both top-order batsmen whereas India need a solid five or six. KL Rahul has been the T20 keeper lately for India, but Karthik will ensure Rahul can focus on his batting and score runs heavily at the top of the order.

Alongside his class keeping and batting, Karthik is a leader. He’s been the captain of Tamil Nadu for many moons, and he commands the respect of all his teammates. Tamil Nadu and Indian cricketers Murali Vijay and Ravi Ashwin have credited Karthik for inspiring them to do well in domestic and international cricket. What Karthik will also be able to provide is leadership. Alongside Rohit Sharma, Karthik can help Virat Kohli with their brilliant cricketing brains and offer Kohli options should things go awry at times.

From a talented youngster to a veteran, Dinesh Karthik has seen it all. While not fulfilling his potential in Test and ODI cricket, Karthik has seen himself in and out of the Indian side throughout his career.

Karthik has made many comebacks into the Indian team. Now 35, this will be the hardest and toughest comeback for Karthik to make. But if the Indian selectors give him the chance he deserves, India’s chances of winning a second T20 World Cup will receive a boost.