THE BATTLE FOR NO.4
I understand what needs to be done and how to go about the No.4 role – Karthik © Getty
Dinesh Karthik was 17 when he made his debut for Tamil Nadu. Two years later, the prized India debut arrived, in an ODI against England at Lord’s in 2004. Since then, Karthik has played several roles in the national side. He’s opened, kept wickets, taken up the finisher’s role and now finds himself as one of the candidates to take up a slot in the middle-order.
At 32, Karthik is entering a crucial phase in his career, just like Indian cricket. Several overseas tours have been lined up in the lead up to the 2019 World Cup and the team is striving to find the best possible combination. For Karthik, runs have flowed in domestic cricket and have kept his chances of playing for the national side alive.
While calls have been made to groom youngsters, it’s not very hard to see why the team management likes Karthik. He’s got experience on his side, has a proven record in domestic cricket, brings agility on the field and has experience of batting at different positions, having played at every position from opening to No. 7. But talk to his teammates in Tamil Nadu and the first thing that strikes you is the team before self attitude.
“After a point in my career, I realised that it’s good to score those runs but you are remembered a lot of because of the tournaments you’ve won and the number of times you’ve stood up in big matches. If you were to ask me the greatest moment of my career, it has to be World T20 in 2007. On a personal note, I didn’t have a great tournament but just that fact that we won the tournament and that gave me a lot of memories. It just feels good that I was part of that. Even the Test series in England in 2007. Yes, I did well personally but more than that, me contributing to the team’s success gives me a lot of satisfaction,” he tells Cricbuzz.
“When I look back, it’s winning these big tournaments that give me a lot of pleasure. The Champions Trophy in 2013, again. These are the big moments. In between I’ve scored runs, I’ve scored centuries and I’ve failed as well but those are not things that you remember so much. These are just conversational things when you meet someone and it comes up that this happened and this much you scored and that happened.
“I’ve been in that sort of mindset for a long time now. I was speaking to a legend and he was telling me no one remembers people’s averages per say. They only remember the knocks you play in terms of your career. But individually, all you remember is the tournament win. One thing [VVS] Laxman told me was it doesn’t matter if I score 30 or 40 runs. What’s more important is to score runs in such a way that I help my team win.”
In all of India’s preceding limited-overs series this year, the chatter has been significantly dominated by the yet-to-be-grasped No. 4 slot in the batting line-up. At the start, the selectors bestowed their faith on Yuvraj Singh – a move that promised in the beginning but failed somewhat at the Champions Trophy and more emphatically, in West Indies.
Since then, the team management has been forced into a constant hunt for a suitable candidate to fill in in that spot. Factor this in, since the 2015 World Cup, the team has tried as many as 11 options and is yet to find a permanent candidate. They’ve tried to accommodate Ajinkya Rahane. They’ve tried to play Rahane at No. 3 and push Virat Kohli to number four. Manoj Tiwary was given an opportunity in Zimbabwe.
While Suresh Raina has been tried as well, constant calls have been made to have MS Dhoni permanently take that slot. But for some reason, the think-tank has been adamant in trying various other option. KL Rahul was given the opportunity but failed to grab the chance. “We don’t want to have a situation like Jinks (Ajinkya Rahane) was going through in between; having to play in the middle-order forcefully because of what the top order was doing,” Kohli had said reflecting on the Rahul experiment.
Manish Pandey impressed sporadically but failed to find consistency, Raina’s been out of favour because of his inability to pass the Yo-Yo Test and the chance has now landed in Karthik’s hands. The conundrum has, sort of, also arisen because the team is striving to avoid rigidity and adopt flexibility – the ability to surprise the opposition – something Kohli felt the team lacked in the Champions Trophy.
And that they did, when they sent in Hardik Pandya in at four against Australia in Indore to take on Ashton Agar. The move worked but what the flexibility approach has also done is not given the chosen candidates enough time to make the No. 4 slot their own.
“It’s a little hard to say, in terms of why people haven’t been able to nail that spot, I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint just one aspect,” says Karthik set to try and cement his spot in the ODI series against Sri Lanka.
There’s a reason the selectors are turning towards experience over flashes of brilliance. The dynamics of the No. 4 position are such that it’s crucial the batsman occupying that spot is temperamentally strong and understands his role. The team can find itself at 10 for 2 or 200 for 2.
‘More than personal achievements, contributing to a team’s success gives me lot of satisfaction’ © Getty
With Kohli rested for the series, both Pandey and Karthik will get a chance to put forward their claim. Karthik feels experience is something that’ll help him do well. “I can say only for myself because I’ve batted for Tamil Nadu and in the IPL at No. 4. I can confidently say that I’m very confident to bat in that position,” he says. “I’ve batted in situations where the score is 0 for 2, 10 for 2 and there have been times when the score has been 210 for 2. I understand what needs to be done and how to go about it and in the experience comes in really handy then.
“The No. 4 batsman is under the scanner because nobody has probably done as well to seal the spot. So whoever is there is under the spotlight. That’s just about it. It’s pretty simple if I can do well if I’m able to be consistent and able to do what the team management wants me to do, then there won’t be any scrutiny per say.”
With five fielders now allowed outside the ring in the last ten overs, it’s crucial the middle-order is able to keep the tempo up during the middle overs. Something Karthik has been working on. “When there were batting and bowling powerplays, it was an interesting phase. You had to choose when you have to take it slow and when you had to attack. You have to choose when you have to take it and how you feel; if you were set or it wasn’t required at that time,” Karthik points out.
“Now we have something totally different. The number of fielders outside the ring keeps changing. It’s very challenging for the bowlers as well but they’ve become more attacking. If there’s help in the track, a lot of wickets do fall in the middle overs but if it’s a batting wicket, then it’s very hard for the bowlers to stop the runs. It’s pretty challenging.”
Karthik did well in the series against New Zealand and with performances against Sri Lanka, he’ll be looking to repay the faith of the selectors and also ensure an extended run in the overseas tours. However, for now, he’s more than happy to take things as they come.
“I’m not someone who sets goals. It’s not something that’s worked for me. As cliched as it may sound, it’s more about taking it one day at a time. That’s what helps me focus and that’s what I do. I’m not someone who sets goals. It’s not something that’s worked for me. As cliched as it may sound, it’s more about taking it one day at a time. That’s what helps me focus and that’s what I do.”