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DINESH KARTHIK was batting on 112 when Mohammed Shami hurled a sharp delivery, one that moved viciously down the leg-side. In his quest for quick runs, the 31-year-old went for an audacious hoick, but failed to connect. The ball sped past diving Bengal wicketkeeper Sreevats Goswami to the fine-leg boundary. Just then, almost inexplicably, Karthik, in the process of completing his shot, dislodged the bails. The see-sawing and pulsating final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy now had its very own tragi-comic moment. Karthik, Tamil Nadu’s vital cog in the middle order, was out hit wicket. Not surprisingly, there were a few bewildered faces in the dressing room, as Karthik and No.11 Rahil Shah made the long walk back.
“Funny isn’t it? I am yet to see the dismissal, but it’s strange that I find ways of getting out. I still can’t believe that I hit the stumps,” was how Karthik put it later.
Batting first, Tamil Nadu could only muster 217. In a big final, and against the kind of batting ammunition that Bengal possessed, it was a fairly below-par total. As it eventually turned out, Karthik’s century, his second of the tournament, could not have come at a more opportune moment. Coming in at No.4 after Bengal’s opening bowlers Ashok Dinda and Mohammed Shami had made early inroads in the Tamil Nadu batting, Karthik was their mainstay. Under the circumstances, it was an innings of skill, matched by high powers of concentration, which ultimately proved to be a match-winning effort.
Karthik’s superlative ton was ably complemented by the discipline shown by their bowlers and the energy exhibited by the fielders. Tamil Nadu pacers Ashwin Crist and M. Mohammad hit the straps from the start, reducing Bengal to 7/2 in the first six overs of the chase. This stifled Bengal and denied them the early momentum. Despite starts from captain Manoj Tiwary and stylish middle-order batsman Sudip Chatterjee, Tamil Nadu bowlers continued to chip away, getting scalps at vital moments. In the end, this would prove to be a match-winning mix, as Tamil Nadu clinched the Vijay Hazare Trophy, after dismissing Bengal for just 180 runs at the Feroz Shah Kotla. There were no prizes for guessing who would walk away with the Man-of-the Match award on Monday.
Karthik admitted batting was difficult because of the zip and potency displayed by Bengal’s fast bowling trio.
“With the likes of Dinda, Shami and Kanishka (Seth), Bengal have a really good bowling unit at their disposal. Dinda, in particular, bowled really well, getting three wickets upfront. Batting in the first innings was a challenge,” he explained. With over 600 runs with two hundreds and three half-centuries in the tournament, he signed off on a high note, and is mighty pleased at the manner in which he had eked out his tally in the national capital.
“My memory is very poor, and I don’t remember too many of my innings in the past. However, to score those runs in a big final, when your team is struggling against a good bowling attack, gives me tremendous satisfaction,” he offered.
Despite the presence of younger players like Kaushik Gandhi, skipper Vijay Shankar and Washington Sundar, it was the maturity of Karthik that invariably came to his team’s rescue. The standout feature was the brisk tempo he maintained throughout the knock. Even though wickets continued to fall around him, he did not curb his natural aggressive batting style. The strike rate of 93.34 was perhaps the best indicator of his approach. “I have played like that pretty much throughout the tournament, where I have trusted my skills. I have not tried to change my batting skills, so it has given me a lot of success. I have kept playing in the same tempo,” he said.
Karthik last played an international match against Afghanistan in an Asia Cup fixture in March 2014. Since then, he has been a regular in domestic tournaments and in the IPL. Looking forward, he gave a very candid view with regard to his India aspirations. “I am not going to lie. Yes, my aim is always to play for India. Even when you are playing in the IPL or for your state, you are always looking to perform well so that you get picked for your country.”
But Karthik said he was not thinking about the cash-rich twenty20 league just yet. Instead, he is looking at the upcoming Deodhar Trophy — another tournament that Tamil Nadu won last year. “I am not looking at the IPL right now. I just want to relax and concentrate on the upcoming Deodhar Trophy. It’s (IPL) there at the back of my mind, but it’s too early to think about such a big tournament right now,” he added.
Brief Scores: Tamil Nadu 217 (Dinesh Karthik 112, Baba Indrajit 32, Ashok Dinda 3/36, Mohammed Shami 4/26) defeated Bengal 180 (Sudip Chatterjee 58, A Crist 2/23) by 37 runs.