Karthik lights up Rajkot skies with all-round brilliance

The Saurashtra Cricket Association stadium in Rajkot is an unique stadium. The press box resembles Lord’s. One corner of the ground resembles Adelaide Oval. Another one resembles the Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg.

The venue in Transvaal will always hold a special place in the hearts of every Indian supporter, for this was where the inaugural T20 World Cup was won in 2007.

But the venue is significant for one other reason, for it was here a year prior to winning the crown, India had recorded its maiden T20I win in their very first outing.

At the heart of the win was a cricketer, who at the time was trying to take his career upwards. He had impressed his then coach-Greg Chappell- with his skill set and on that night, with the pressure on him to take the side across the line Dinesh Karthik delivered for India with an unbeaten 31.

Cut to present day. Karthik is now 37 years (young) and a veteran who, after his fair share of ups and downs, is desperate to wear the India blue and make a difference for the side by essaying the finisher’s role, in the line-up.

Heading into the 4th T20I at Rajkot, the pressure remained on India despite the convincing win at Vizag in the third game. Crucially, though, Karthik needed a improved showing post the poor outing in the previous game.

In IPL 2022, Karthik’s role with the Royal Challengers Bangalore was to provide the innings with the flourish at the end and it was a role that he had prepared for, diligently. But on Friday, the situation that he walked out to bat with India 81/4 in the 13th over, it demanded a bit of application from Karthik and not just him, showcasing the range of strokes that he had at his disposal.

With five overs left, India’s score read 96/4. 150 was thought of to be a good score. However, Karthik, with Hardik Pandya, had other ideas. The 16th over from Anrich Nortje yielded 15 runs, with two fours coming off the former’s bat.

Almost as if he had received a tonic Karthik approached the following over from Keshav Maharaj with a renewed verve. The first ball saw the sweep shot come out and the ball raced to the fence. Off the third ball, Karthik opted to go straight. The confidence was up and you could see that despite the innings still needing him to stay till the end, he was open to trying to new shots and off the next ball, Karthik played the reverse lap, which went over short third man for another four.

The engine had been revved up and was now functioning at its best intensity. Karthik took 15 runs from the following over off Dwaine Pretorius and a few balls after watching Pandya fall to Lungi Ngidi, Karthik got to his maiden T20I fifty with a six off Pretorius.

The landmark had come in a must-win game and it meant that India got to a score in excess of 150 which did not look likely when he walked out after Rishabh Pant’s dismissal.

While Karthik may remain the only member from both sides who competed in the first-ever T20I way back in 2006 still playing international cricket, it is clear that the skills that he possesses, at the back end of an innings, are invaluable.

As much as he has garnered praise for his clean hitting ability, a key to Karthik’s performance both on Friday and even in the IPL have been the angles that he has picked out to place the ball. The arc ranges from around long-on to deep fine-leg and he has shown the capability to stand still as well as get low and send the ball sailing over the fence.

T20 is no longer necessarily a format, which demand a batsman to stay at the crease and play the long innings. Instead, it has evolved into a format which demands impact from a batsman. Karthik, with his 27-ball 55 on Friday, showed why he is an excellent example of such a player and why he is so pivotal to India’s plans, moving forward.

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