From peak to slump - DK’s struggles in IPL 2023

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Walking down the memory lane of his 19-year long international career, Dinesh Karthik has had many highs and lows. However, nothing else than the IPL would have given him a reality check that the good days don't always last long, as he has suffered a dramatic shift in fortunes this season.

Over the years, the Indian Premier League has turned out to be a land of opportunity for youngsters as well as veteran cricketers. In the IPL 2023, youngsters like Dhruv Jurel, Rinku Singh, and Suyash Sharma have made waves while the experienced Ajinkya Rahane earned a recall to India’s WTC final squad thanks to his sublime touch in this edition. Before Rahane, it was Dinesh Karthik, whose commanding finishing abilities not only helped RCB pile on points last year, but it also earned him a call to the Indian T20I side for the first time in three years.

Karthik carried out the responsibility of a finisher for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL 2022 with superb hitting skills. In fact, he had his best IPL season statistically last year, amassing 330 runs at his career-best strike rate of 183.33. Besides, finishing the matches more often than not helped him to boast an impressive average of 55. His ridiculously impressive performances week in and week out in the tournament, where he contributed 20.62 runs per innings on average excluding not outs, became the talk of the town. 

To break down his brilliance further, there were only five matches when Karthik had a strike rate below 150, and the team lost four of those games depicting the impact of his aggressive cameos. While batting first, there were nine fixtures, when Karthik had a responsibility to provide a solid finish by staying till the end, and he fulfilled it in six of those games. The RCB wicket-keeper also maintained a similar consistency while taking the team over the finishing line on four occasions out of seven potential finishes. He had a massive impact on the team scoreboard as well boosting the team’s scoring rate during his stay at the crease in 13 out of 16 matches., and when it took a massive bump without Karthik’s golden finish in three fixtures, they lost all of them. 

One season later, we are witnessing a complete contrast version of the veteran cricketer. Even the best in the business have some bad days, but it is rare to see one having his peak and immediately following it up with a massive slump. The 37-year-old is going through a similar fate as IPL 2023 has been one of his worst seasons. In total, he has managed to gather only 140 runs from 12 innings, albeit at a decent strike rate of 135.92. Also, his average runs per innings slipped to 11.66, which is almost a nine-run difference compared to last season. This year so far, there is no single occasion when he has stepped up to the task and finished the innings for his team, or has come to the rescue when they required it the most. His disappointing performance is not only affecting his personal stats but the team’s position on the points table has been also hampered with the team accumulating zero points from three games where he failed to accelerate.

Now, to decode the performance of the Indian batter, it becomes vital to go through the innings progression and to see if there is a pattern that brought about unprecedented success. In 2022, Karthik seem to have played with a plan to gradually build the innings. He would play the first five to six balls with ground shots and then shift his attention towards the aerial route, demolishing bowlers with his explosion. To understand this, one would need to only see his performance in the tournament opener against PBKS last season where he started with just two runs from the first four balls and then concluded the game with a knock of unbeaten 32 runs from 14 balls. Not only PBKS, but DC (66 runs from 34 balls) and RR (44 runs from 23 balls) were also at the receiving end of Karthik’s carnage. Against DC, he started with seven of 13 but mustered 59 runs from the only 21 deliveries to follow. In the contest against Rajasthan Royals, the wicketkeeper-batter scored just a single from the first three balls. However, he found boundaries often after that getting to 44 runs from 23 deliveries in the end. 

The steady progression from the previous edition has not worked out for him this time around. For example, in a match against Rajasthan Royals, he started with three runs from the first five balls and then smacked a boundary on the sixth delivery hinting at an acceleration. However, the next boundary came after five balls, and the TN batter got dismissed immediately on the next delivery. KKR and DC were the other opponents where a similar kind of knock was replicated. In the game against KKR, Karthik started with 1 run from the first two balls but then smacked a four on the third delivery. He was supposed to put his foot on the pedal but the scoring momentum was halted as it took 12 more deliveries for his next big hit for a maximum. ,The RCB finisher was dismissed two balls later with a knock of only 22 runs which did nothing to advance the team’s cause. In the clash against DC, Karthik started with four runs from the first five balls. Then, he followed it up with a maximum on the sixth delivery. After smashing a big hit, it was time for him to get going but the batter was dismissed after getting only one run from the next two balls. Such a haphazard pattern of innings progression shows that the failure in continuing the scoring momentum after one big hit has affected his scores. 

The comparison of his performance in the ongoing edition with the last one highlights that Karthik has been chasing his own shadow from the past. However, the performance of the other finishers would point out the magnitude of the dip in his form and where he stands in the list of finishers in the tournament. MS Dhoni, with whose vintage version, Karthik was compared after the last year’s exploits, has been superb smashing 98 runs from 50 balls with a strike rate of 196 and not getting dismissed on seven occasions out of 12. Youngster Dhruv Jurel, who has finished the innings for Rajasthan Royals several times, is also ahead of his senior rival. Jurel has gathered 142 runs, which is two more than Karhik’s tally even after playing 19 deliveries less than him. Notably, the poor performance hasn't translated much into results as the star trio of Faf du Plessis, Virat Kohli, and Glenn Maxwell is compensating for it with a much better performance from the last year. Plus, Mohammed Siraj has been quite impressive with the new ball, and that also helped the team defend totals even after not getting a swash-buckling ‘DK’ finish. 

The overall analysis of Karthik’s performance depicts that RCB has a flaw in lower order which they will have to resolve in the near future. The team have two backup wicketkeepers in the form of Anuj Rawatr and Finn Allen. Unfortunately, none of them are finishers and so they cannot replace him with no space in the top or middle order. In such a complicated case, the team have two options in hand. They can back Karthik for one more season and then release him before the auction while keeping an eye on his potential replacement during the bidding process. The other way around the solution is to search for a young wicketkeeper who can finish the innings as well which would be a pretty tough option. Although, Anuj Rawat played an impressive cameo of unbeaten 29 runs from 11 balls in the match against RR, his capability to pull that off consistently is still to be tested.  

Without Karthik’s services, RCB have won six matches out of 12, but still, considering his performances this year, the wicketkeeper-batter appears to be robbing the RCB of an opportunity from being a title-winning outfit. 

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