It is not easy to be India’s designated finisher. Not getting enough playing time, or enough game situations where he has to win the superhuman chase or end the innings with a flurry of daring blows, is part of the job description. Add to that India’s tendency to chop and change the T20 lineup over the past year or so. The team has played 36 T20Is after the 2021 T20 World Cup. karthik has only played 20 innings hitting at 149.72.
This is where willingness comes in handy. Sometimes he has to do what the 10 others on the team may not be able to do at the time. He’s a specialist, but his captain will wish he were never needed. Even if, after endless waiting, he gets the chance to finish it in a high-pressure match, the odds are high against Karthik. At best, there is only a 50:50 chance of success. Karthik has to take those chances.
Hello Sydney 👋We are here for our 2nd match of the #T20WorldCup! 👏 👏#TeamIndia https://t.co/96toEZzvqe
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1666673383000
Last night against Pakistan, in what is the biggest match of the ongoing T20 World Cup, Karthik took just two balls. He only entered the last over, against the slow twist of the left arm of Mohammed Nawazuwhere India needs no less than 16 of five balls and Hardik Pandya have just fallen.
Karthik immediately danced across the track and although he might have been better off waiting in his fold, he managed to do the most important thing: hand the blow back to Virat Kohli. What followed was drama, chaos, panic attacks, wide, hip-high full throws and controversy as 13 runs came from the next three balls. Now that India needed two out of two, the pressure was off. DK was on strike again. How is he supposed to close it now?
Nawaz threw a flat as he went downstairs, while DK gave away his intentions. A hesitant attempt at a sweep ended in a stumping instead. Disaster. Failure. Yield. reload. Prepare for a new day.
Both at the MCG and here at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where India takes on the Netherlands on Thursday, Karthik’s approach during the net sessions has been meticulous and tireless. He will stretch a little and then run. He will start by doing some wicketkeeping drills. He will then hit the nets and go further and further. He will then stay again.
On Tuesdays, he always seemed to be in animated conversation with R Ashwin, even during the keep and batting sessions. About 10 minutes of practice and he was in the nets. He would go on to spin, side arm, pace, off spin, left arm spin, and back again. Lots of left-arm spin. Then he would return to his ‘holding exercises’. Karthik’s father also appeared for a while and watched him train.
There are very few cricketers in the world who, at the age of 37 and having completely transformed themselves for a specific role, can sustain this training intensity. Along with his personal ‘coach’ and friend Abhishek Nayar, Karthik is known for booking stadiums and flying bowlers over and paying for their lodging and expenses. He will travel around the country simulating different conditions.
Unlike an MS Dhoni or an Andre Russell, who just muscle the ball, ‘DK’ takes the harder path: he has to create corners, keep his form, get his timing right, look ugly against spin, sometimes on the pitch play, fox the pacemaker. Basically improvise. He’s a busy, restless character in the nets and in the middle, not a fan of range-hitting. It’s a tough course, but you can’t boast of 6 T20I innings of 25 or more runs with a strike rate over 200 through routine work. He played 22 innings as number 6 in T20Isstriking at 142.78.
On Tuesday, he seemed obsessed with the arc between square leg and fine leg for a while. When Mohammed Siraj thrown, he began to achieve goals: “Four! Yeh chauka gaya! That’s six! Four!” Siraj answered only with a sheepish smile and at one point he laughed, “Arre monkey bhi!” He had tried to change his line, but DK was on top of it.
A net bowler, Muhammad Irfan Jr, a great pacesetter from Pakistan who plays cricket in Sydney, sometimes harassed Karthik with the back ball. He later said: “Woh apni practice karte hai aur unko shots lagana hai (he does his own practice and has to play his shots).”
Between endless periods of rest, a finisher must unwind and strike. If India hunts and Karthik strikes, you can bet it’s a tight game.