All of 19 years old, a teenage Dinesh Karthik, on his ODI debut, turned heads with a rousing piece of wicket-keeping, just as Michael Vaughan appeared set to take the game away from India in a run chase. Karthik slid down leg-side to a Harbhajan Singh delivery, grabbed the ball and used his back-hand to jump and take off the bail while Vaughan was outside the crease. The mind-blowing stumping turned a low-scoring game on its head and India edged ahead by 23 runs.
Dinesh Karthik was a fabulous find for Indian cricket. A passionate, agile, wicket-keeping batsman, he had emerged right at the time India were on the hunt for a man behind the stumps. But he was overshadowed quite quickly by that Jharkhand long-maned boy, MS Dhoni.
Dhoni's emergence literally closed the selection doors on Karthik. He remained an able first-choice replacement but it didn't go beyond that. To put things into perspective, he played less than 100 matches in a career spanning close to 14 years.
Karthik’s career had been a game of patience. Waiting for Dhoni to rest, waiting for a middle-order batsman to sit out, waiting for a place in the limited-overs side… it was hard work. In the few chances he got, he couldn’t quite nail down a spot either.
However, 2017 was different. India needed an attacking middle-order batsman in the limited-overs side more than a keeper and Karthik had been superb in domestic limited-overs cricket for the last couple of years. It was the perfect marriage as he marked his presence with telling contributions whenever the opportunity came by.
But with a slew of youngsters fighting alongside him, consistent chances failed to blossom.
It was the waiting game all over again, perhaps best exemplified by Vijay Shankar's promotion to No. 6 ahead of him in the Nidahas Trophy final on Sunday. Karthik was seemingly exasperated by the decision and Rohit Sharma had to sit down and convince him about the need for Karthik to come in later.
"He has batted in that position in a list of games for his state teams. Even when he was playing for Mumbai Indians (in the Indian Premier League) with me, I knew his ability with the bat. He’s got some different types of skill shots that would probably be required at that point at the death overs. That was the only reason we held him back. I can proudly say it paid off." - Rohit Sharma, Captain, India
The move almost went all wrong as Vijay Shankar failed to put bat on ball and allowed Mustafizur Rahman to wreck havoc in the 18th over. With 34 needed in two overs, the crowd, which turned out in large numbers to boo the Bangladeshis after an ugly episode in the clash against the hosts two days back, lost their voice.
Dinesh Karthik, though, had a point to prove. He was miffed, peeved and wanted to do what Dhoni so wonderfully did for India in a long career. In essence, he was not only replacing the rested Dhoni behind the stumps, but also in front of it.
The first ball Karthik faced, he slammed a six over long-on off a low full toss. Two balls later, he had added another six, and a four and was on 16 in three balls. Last ball of the over, he crouched low, pulled off the scoop and added a fourth boundary in the over.
All of a sudden, Bangladesh had lost the plot. They had bowled out their main bowlers and needed to defend 12 against an ice cool Dinesh Karthik and a roaring Colombo crowd. Shakib-al-Hasan turned to medium pacer Soumya Sarkar for the last over and much to the agony of the crowd, he sent down a pretty good first five balls.
With five needed off one ball, the tension in the crowd was discernible. Temperatures in Colombo might never have shot up more but one man remained cool, composed and displayed Dhoni-like steely temperament.
Most batsmen look to slog across the line when a six off the last ball is the only way to win the game. But Karthik was in such sublime touch that he stood balanced, reached the pitch of the ball delivered outside off-stump and nonchalantly, impassively lifted the ball over cover boundary with a textbook-prescribed cover drive. The game was sealed as the Naagins swallowed their venom and the crowd went berserk.
For once, Karthik had not only grabbed the spotlight but nailed down his place in the side with a hammer. It was perhaps the most telling eight balls of the 4,235 balls he has faced in International cricket. The innings paint a completely different picture of Karthik and all of a sudden he seems like the ideal man to solve India's middle-order woes in limited-overs cricket. If this wouldn't do it, little else would. It's Karthik’s time after fourteen long years of dawdling.
(Rohit Sankar is a freelance cricket writer. He can be reached at @imRohit_SN. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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