His restlessness borders on a childish vigour. His free-spirited nature gives way to a calm persona, one who barely allows the pressures of the cricket field to attack his zeal for the game. Having lived his professional life under the shadows of illustrious Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, one may not be wrong in suggesting that his services to the India team have not matched up to the aspirations that he had held close to him after he allowed the call of mysterious world of cricket to divert him from his engineering route.
When Dinesh Karthik was in his prime, the emergence of Dhoni thwarted him. When his techniques were questioned for his inability to mark a permanent spot in the middle order, Karthik changed his stance, thus allowing him more time to play his stroke. His balance at the crease was questioned- both in his footwork and in his inability to mentally gauge his shot selection. It was met with an even more intense routine of net sessions and mental conditioning classes that gave him a tighter grasp on his game, also allowing him to keep his attacking mode intact. He proved to be a revelation for the Gujarat Lions in the Indian Premier League and the Ranji Trophy for Tamil Nadu; his patience and perseverance paying off when he was selected to play for the Indian colours again after a gap of four years.
His comeback in North Sound against West Indies fetched just two runs. With a wobbly middle order, plagued by inconsistencies and injuries, Karthik had ample opportunity to tighten his grasp with a permanent spot. He returned with a fighting knock of fifty in the 5th ODI against the Windies, perfectly pairing with centurion Virat Kohli to guide India home to the target.
An unbeaten 64 against New Zealand in the 2nd ODI at Pune, when India were 79 for 2 in under fourteen overs, displayed his mettle and his maturity; traits which had been imbibed when he was cast aside from the national team.
But destiny does have its strange ways of functioning. The moment you remain cocooned in its comforts, thinking that fate is in one’s hands, it pushes you towards a meatier test and a terser trial. The arrival of youngster Shreyas Iyer jeopardized all the attention that was being bestowed on Karthik; with the former notching up back-to-back half-centuries in the series against Sri Lanka to give glimpses of his vast potential.
Yes, it would have filled any cricket fanatic with a deep-rooted pride. The way Iyer aced a half-volley that was pitched outside off towards cover had class glittered all over it. His footwork remained immaculate; shuffling forward and backwards in the crease to confuse the bowler, leaving them hopeless and dejected. Years of being known as a cricketer who could do wonders on the big stage were over and here he was, stamping his niche in the middle order.
And this is where Karthik fumbled. Yes, he cannot be blamed for his failure in capturing the minds of the nation for it is but natural to remain caught up in the midst of the Kohlis and Dhonis. He did proceed with noteworthy contributions when the stage arose, but somewhere, something just remained missing. The oomph of a Rohit Sharma or the dazzling presence of Shikhar Dhawan caught up on the Tamil Nadu player and as has been the norm, he was once again unable to push through the stalwarts to remind one and all of his existence.
It now remains a tight battle between Kedhar Jadhav, Manish Pandey and Karthik for the elusive spot in the eleven. Kohli preference for Jadhav is well-known and Pandey’s flamboyant stroke making works in his favour. With Karthik uncertain once again of his international future, he can take inspiration from his idol Rahul Dravid, whose jersey number he now adorns.
“The Wall” had earned his name after fighting several setbacks and blows; at times he was deluded by Sachin Tendulkar and on others, he just went by unnoticed. Yet he stuck on, casting his name in the history pages of cricket and Karthik too would hope that the phase of knockouts will soon fade away, giving birth to a blooming career where his years of hard work and toil will finally reap rich dividends.