Dinesh Karthik never gave up the dream of being in national colours again, and the 2022-23 season is set to be his breakthrough season. However, his rich vein of the form should be appropriately utilised, rather than just a designated ‘finisher’.
Last week, at Delhi’s Arun Jaitley Stadium against South Africa, Dinesh Karthik was not given much notice on his return to the Indian shirt after three prolonged years. It was due to a top-heavy performance by Rishabh Pant and his boys, which although did not come in a winning cause. Still, it did not faze Karthik, and two days after, at Cuttack, he blazed away after coming at No. 7, scoring an unbeaten 21-ball 30 in a total of 148/6. However, it was still not enough to get a victory.
But then, spectators at Visakhapatnam for the third T20I between the two sides did not see the dazzling Karthik again. Yet, India won the contest to pull one back, and followed that with a spectacular collective performance.
On Friday night, in the fourth T20I at Rajkot, Karthik lit up, plundering 55 runs off 27 balls with nine fours and two sixes. He got support from Hardik Pandya, and the pair recovered India from 81/4 to 169/6. South Africa, in response, were skittled out for 87 in 16.5 overs.
So far in the ongoing series, Karthik’s aggregate of 92 has come at 158.62. Among his teammates, only Hardik is close to him, striking at 153.95. The rest could not have even touched 150.
Like India’s head coach Rahul Dravid mentioned ahead of the series opener, Karthik has been designated as a ‘finisher’ from here on. However, his place in India’s starting lineup is still uncertain for the next T20 World Cup, scheduled to take place in Australia later this year, is still uncertain. But even if he makes the cut, will Karthik, the finisher, be enough for the country to clinch the prestigious glory? No.
If ardent cricket fans start to discuss India’s current pool of top-order batters, particularly for the limited-overs set-up, the first three names which would pop up in mind are Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, and KL Rahul. There are little doubts about their presence in the top three for the next big-ticket event. But their last two years’ records in the T20 format, particularly in terms of strike rates, are not something to be bragged about.
Although each of them strikes at well over 135 in their overall T20I career, it went down or around 130 since 2021 for everyone. Except for Rohit, India’s current all-format captain, whose 424 runs came at an astonishing 150.9 last year. In contrast, his tally of 116 runs in six matches this year has come at 122.1.
With the type of players who love to take some time to settle themselves in the middle, rather than attacking the opposition’s bowlers, India desperately need a few for Nos. 4 and 5 who can bat aggressively right from the beginning. In Suryakumar Yadav and Karthik, they have got the best possible covers. Suryakumar can take charge moments after walking in, and Karthik can do even better. Hardik should come at No. 6 to be an alternate finisher if Karthik misses out on some occasions, and then the others should follow.
With the way Rishabh Pant throwing his wickets on a regular basis nowadays, it won’t be a huge surprise if he fails to get a place in the playing XI for the next T20 World Cup. Just a friendly reminder, Karthik can keep well too.
Karthik is 37. Just two nights ago, he became the oldest Indian to get to a maiden T20I fifty. But in T20I cricket, does this individual milestone even matter anywhere across the world? No. And talking about his age, as Sunil Gavaskar, while discussing Karthik with Star Sports, rightly remarked, “Don't look at the man's age, look at the performances.”
He (Dinesh Karthik) doesn't get too many opportunities, bats at No. 6 and 7. You can't expect him to get 50 regularly. He'll get you a good 40 in 20 deliveries and that's what he has been doing consistently. He the exactly the same thing again and that is the reason why he's very much in contention for a place in the World Cup squad. The way he got runs today, India were down and out. It showed great character, showed great determination, and showed great sense of purpose. He's desperate to play for India again. I think that might be his swansong. I know there's a 50-overs World Cup next year and he might want to be available for that as wel. But whatever it is, don't look at the man's age, look at the performances."
More importantly, India, despite having the largest pool of highly-talented cricketers, do not have many who can fill the lower middle order. The likes of Ishan Kishan, Prithvi Shaw, Sanju Samson, and Shreyas Iyer prefer to bat among the top three, not after that. Thus, Karthik is the best possible solution for India to bat at No. 5. Remember, he walked into the middle in the 13th over of India’s innings at Rajkot. All he took was 27 balls to take India to a challenging total.
I am reading all these reports about this being Dinesh Karthik's first 50 in T20Is. But the half century is such an irrelevant measurement tool in T20 cricket.— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) June 18, 2022
Similar to India’s batting at Rajkot, if India struggle to get going in the first half of the innings, there must be someone at the lower middle order who can be trustworthy and reliable, not one who just roams around or fails to find any rhythm.
Without a doubt, the aggression Karthik showed while batting in IPL 2022 for Royal Challengers Bangalore earned him a national recall. There, at RCB, his aggregate of 330 runs came at 183.33 from 16 matches, of which on 10 occasions, he remained not out. He batted accordingly to how the franchise demanded, but here, for Team India, he needs to step up with additional responsibilities. Let's put it this way.