Dinesh Karthik: The ‘specialist replacement’ gets his due
There was a time when he was known as much for his athletic wicketkeeping style as for the number of times he changed his name. He burst on to the scene as K.D. Karthik. That soon changed to K.K.D. Karthik. Then there was a phase where he went from Karthik to Kaarthik, and even, briefly, Kaarthick. No interview was complete without at least one journalist asking him for a clarification on how he was spelling his name currently.
It’s taken him a decade and a half to get here, but Dinesh Karthik may well remember Sunday as the night he finally made a name for himself.
India needed 34 to win off two overs when he walked in to bat at No.7 in the Nidahas Trophy final against Bangladesh. He scored 29 off eight deliveries, including a last-ball six with five needed to win.
It feels kind of excessive to throw superlatives at an innings that lasted just eight balls, but a last-ball six to win a game is the stuff dreams—and movies—are made of. “Probably one of the best nights of my life,” he tweeted hours after the game. “Nothing comes close to crossing the finish line for your country.”
No one will grudge Karthik—the very definition of a wrong-era athlete—his moment in the spotlight.
Karthik made his international debut in 2004, replacing an increasingly shaky Parthiv Patel behind the stumps. Unfortunately for him, a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni showed up on the scene soon after. With the wicketkeeping slot gone, he worked on his batting, scoring tons of runs in domestic cricket to stake his claim as a specialist batsman.
At one point, he was picked as an opener but Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had sealed those positions before Karthik could get a look in. A bit like Andy Roddick, who spent most of his tennis career chasing Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Karthik kept plugging away though, and strong performances in the Indian Premier League kept him in and around the Indian team, especially for the shorter formats.
Thirteen years since his debut, he has played just 23 Tests and 79 One Day Internationals, and, by his own admission, he plays every match like it could be his last. “From where I sit, every tournament is important. One bad tournament, and I will be on my way out,” he told reporters on the eve of the final.
“There is pressure but from where I am sitting, I need to be able to handle that pressure. I need to embrace it rather than run away from it or use it as an excuse.”
The question now is whether the team management can ease that pressure.
Dhoni, now 36, is not the finisher he used to be, and handing Karthik the gloves will free up space for an extra batsman or bowler, depending on conditions.
Karthik is still only 32, and given the amount of work he puts into staying fit, the chances of him being around and in form when the next World Cup comes around are fairly high.
Because of the way his career has panned out, Karthik risks being remembered as bit of a jack of all trades. That will be unfortunate for a cricketer who became the Indian team’s specialist replacement—waiting patiently for his chance to shine, knowing fully well that those chances would be few and far between.
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for 20 years, now runs an events space, The 248 Collective, in Goa.
He tweets at @deepakyen