Finisher Dinesh Karthik back at his dashing best ahead of World T20?

Colombo, 18th March 2018. India has wrested its way to the final, carrying the tag of being clear favourites in a three-way tourney with neighbours Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but there is work yet to be done and some hard work at that. There are 34 runs to be scored and only 12 balls to knock them off of. A set batsman in Manish Pandey has just departed. There is a floundering Vijay Shankar at the other end. The Bangla pacers have found recent heroes in Rubel Hossein and Mustafizur Rahman. They have bowled with fire, gunning down skipper Rohit Sharma after he slammed a fluent half-ton and Mr. 360 KL Rahul, who had been looking in good touch himself. India finds itself precariously placed in the match, faced with the possibility of an ignominious defeat to the minnows in the final of a series they’re expected to win. Enter Dinesh Karthik, designated senior ’keeper-bat and finisher, now that Dhoni has phased out and Rishabh Pant is still some months away from finding his feet.

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Rubel Hossein steams in and gets carted around for six, four, six. Long-on, wide of long-on, and square-leg. Rubel and Bangladesh start to sweat. The over eventually goes for 6 more runs, a massive 22 off it, honing the deficit down to 12 needed off the last six. There is drama yet to unfold, with a shaky Shankar getting himself out of the fifth ball of the over. With five needed off the last, it is still Bangladesh’s match to lose. Karthik isn’t going to hear any of that, however, tonking Soumya Sarkar with a crisp lofted cover drive for a six that brings India pouring onto the grounds and mobbing the mercurial finisher.

DK’s heroics in the final of the Nidahas Trophy saw him rise to Dhoni-like status in the country. He had finished matches for India before and had done it consistently for his IPL sides, but never in such an exhilarating fashion, with the country’s spotlight trained on him. He landed a captaincy stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders in 2018. He helped them qualify for the playoffs in his debut year as captain. He played the occasional cameo, holding his team in good stead with targets and helping them across the line numerous times. On one occasion, he proved to be a lone warrior for his side, as he smoked 97 not out off 50 balls against Rajasthan Royals in 2019, clobbering 9 sixes and seven fours in a solo act.

Then came a lull in scoring, and his returns started to wane. KKR’s over-reliance on Andre Russell and skipper DK added new layers of pressure to his batting, and he was often put on the cross for the team’s indifferent showing in 2019 and 2020 by a horde of Kolkata fans who were used to tasting earlier IPL glory. DK’s captaincy failures took a toll on his batting numbers as well. His average dropped to a horrific 14.08 in 2020, which rose only slightly to 22.30 the following year. His strike rate, which had been on the better side of 150 for most of his remembered knocks, fell to the 120s. Midway through a forgettable 2020, he stepped down from the captaincy role and let England-World-Cup-winning skipper Eoin Morgan take the reins for the side, who couldn’t do much better himself for KKR.
A quiet 2021 saw him eventually being forced to leave his side of four years, and it seemed like the finisher DK was a spent force. The rise of Rishabh Pant, with the swashbuckling wicketkeeper adding a dimension of levelheadedness to his capacity for carnage, had shut the door to the national side for the Tamil Nadu talisman. His 2015 side, the Royal Challengers Bangalore, picked him at the mega auction for the 2022 season.

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It breathed a new lease of life into the ailing career of the potent ’keeper-bat. Karthik has bludgeoned 21 sixes in 13 matches in the ongoing season so far, having hit 11 in his previous 31 matches for KKR. With a designated role as the finisher for the side, he opened his season with a crisp 32 off 14 against PBKS. He followed it up with 14* off 7 against former team KKR and a blistering 44* off 23 against RR. He creamed 34 off 14 against CSK and slammed a season-best of 63* off 32 against DC.
RCB’s relatively decent placing in the table this year can be primarily attributed to the return of DK as a finisher. When the team was hurtling down familiar corridors of late-season failure, DK snapped a three-match losing streak, scoring 22* off 15 in the return fixture against CSK, before pummeling SRH for 30* off 8 and helping RCB stay in the hunt for a playoffs spot.

Dinesh Karthik has had his career-best IPL yet, scoring at an average of 57 while smashing them at a mind-boggling strike rate of 192.57, which is the best in the season so far, eclipsing KKR’s IPL bully Andre Russell and Orange Cap holder Jos Buttler. Most had given up on DK during his years with the Kolkata side, but an escape from poor management and being assigned clear roles without having to worry about the captaincy tag seems to have rekindled the DK forge.

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It looks like it is déjà vu for Rishabh Pant, but with it twisted around in karmic proportion, as he has had a relatively quiet season and has more than a strong competitor in Karthik for the slot of first-choice ’keeper in the Indian side for the World T20 later this year. Selectors have a happy headache in this problem of plenty now, with DK’s experience and recent form helping his cause greatly over the dynamic Pant. For all its bench strength and abundance of global superstars, India hasn’t tasted World Cup success in over a decade. If the chance comes knocking, DK will finally have a shot at doing a Dhoni for the country.
Over to chief selector Chetan Sharma and company, then. Stay tuned with The Sportsway for more such reads.

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