The best way to describe the relationship between Dinesh Karthik and the sweep-shot would probably be, “it’s complicated”. There are days on which the two look made for each other, when the diminutive right-hander is pulling it off with nonchalance, regardless of what length or line the ball is pitching on. And then there are other days where the two come across as strange bedfellows, especially when Karthik has botched an uncalled for premeditated sweep and holed out in the deep or been bowled around his legs. Yet, somehow, through good times and bad, the two have stuck with each other.
The sweep shot in many ways also defines Karthik’s enigmatic career. On days when he’s on song and showcasing his full repertoire of strokes, it’s generally the sweep that dominates the highlight reel. Like was the case at the BKC as he scored a scintillating 167 to propel Tamil Nadu to 434 after a cagey start to their innings before the visitors reduced Mumbai to 45/2, dismissing the in-form Shreyas Iyer, to finish Day Two in a dominant position.
But at the same time, it is the sweep that he gets wrong — both in terms of timing and execution — that show up his greatest failure. Maybe Karthik could be justified if he were to say, “It’s not me. It’s the sweep-shot.”
Few have doubted Karthik’s talent as a batsman. The Tamil Nadu wicket-keeper possesses most shots in the book, along with a pretty solid batting technique that props up his defensive game. And when you watch him bat the way he did against a tired and hapless Mumbai attack on Friday, you can’t help but wonder why this enigmatic talent hasn’t quite kicked on the big stage.
He had been relatively cautious during his stay at the crease on Day One, preferring to blunt the Mumbai bowling rather than go after it, which is generally his style. But he started off aggressively from the word go on the second, stroking Dhawal Kulkarni for a boundary through cover. He had hit two more boundaries within the next few overs before bringing up his first century of the season soon after with another elegant drive. Once past three-figures, Karthik decided to cut loose, going from 100 to 150 in a space of 49 deliveries.
This was the time Mumbai used their spinners, both regular and part-time, incessantly and it gave Karthik an opportunity to show off his fondness for the sweep shot. He swept them to fine-leg, he swept them to deep backward square, and when they pitched it full, he even lapped them behind the wicket-keeper. There was support from Malolan Rangarajan from the other end, with the off-spinner eventually making 61. But he was overshadowed, like everything else at the BKC, by the Karthik show.
As luck would have it, it was the sweep-shot that would lead to Karthik’s downfall once again, as he missed one off Vishal Dabholkar and was adjudged lbw to give the left-arm spinner his fifth wicket.
It was an important innings for Karthik in more ways than one. With MS Dhoni having retired from Tests, the wicket-keeper’s spot is up for grabs. Even if Wriddhiman Saha and Naman Ojha might have leapfrogged Karthik, he’s aware that he’s not out of the race yet.
Karthik for one can surely not complain about not getting enough chances to showcase his talent. He’s been the Indian team’s perennial replacement across all formats for years now. You then ask him whether Dhoni’s retirement from Tests has changed his approach. You would think it is obvious, considering that Karthik entered the Test arena before Dhoni, and 11 years later is still on the fringes. But Karthik insisted on wanting to keep all doors open, and not be bracketed solely as a wicket-keeper.
“I have always looked at myself differently. I feel I am more a kind who is a batsman and at the same time keeps wickets as well. So I can do each thing individually. I have been versatile that way, having batted in all positions from 1 to 7,” he said insisting that he’s at a stage now where he wants to score enough runs to ensure the selectors can’t ignore him anymore. On days like this though, it’s tough to disagree with him.
Brief scores: Tamil Nadu 434 in 144.4 overs (Baba Aparajith 62, Dinesh Karthik 167, M Rangarajan 61; Vishal Dabholkar 5-122) vs Mumbai 45/2 in 29 overs.