The snake dance seemed on cards when Somya Sarkar ran in for that last delivery as India still needed five runs. You don’t conjure up a six off the last ball on most nights. But if you had to pick one man on this manic night, it had to be Dinesh Karthik. Uncharacteristically calm.
Unusually no urges for cute shots. Normally, he would be the poster boy for nervous energy, bursting with restlessness that would trigger those self-destructive urges. Not this Sunday night. Not this couple of weeks in fact, but definitely not on this final night in Sri Lanka. He came up with a flat, hard, crashing hit over covers, put his hand aloft, watched on silently, calmly as the other Indians around him went berserk in joy.
When he came in, India had needed 34 runs from the last two overs. Under pressure by Manish Pandey’s slow start, Rohit Sharma had fallen to a big hit. Under pressure by swing-and-miss of Vijay Shankar, who probably has had the most miserable over that an Indian batsman has ever faced in an international T20, Pandey too had gone.
Karthik had no time to fuss around – no settling in by tapping a ball or two; he had no option but to swing. Perhaps that liberated him.
Rewind a bit. To help understand Karthik’s efforts, we have to freeze-frame to Shankar’s misery. He was promoted ahead of Karthik, and he had started off pretty okay, hitting the odd boundary and getting the equation down to 35 from 20 – not ungettable, if anything certainly doable in T20. He even had the right ideas in that over. He took the off-stump guard, ready to swing Mustafizur Rahman to the on side boundary. Mustafizur had a pretty average tournament, outbowled by Rubel Hossain.
The off-stump guard tactic made sense. But he repeatedly met thin air, as Mustafizur kept rolling the offcutters away. Dot ball after dot ball before his agony ended with a leg bye, but the pressure escalated as Pandey fell on the last ball, holing out to long-on.
Karthik had walked into this chaos. Snake charmers would have decidedly bet their life’s earnings on a Bangladesh win when Karthik smashed a low full toss over long-on. 28 from 11 now, still a long way away.
The next was slugged wide of midwicket for a four. It was the next shot that actually kicked in the definite hope of a stunning turnaround. He had stood outside the crease for the first ball to convert a fullish ball into a full toss but for the third, he had retreated deep inside the crease. And also moved towards off. Hossain produced a decent ball, full and on the middle but Karthik didn’t move around the crease. Not a twitch. No pre-determination. That in itself was something, coming from him. Then he produced a wonderful whippy twirl of the bat, that saw the ball being thrown back from stands beyond the square-leg boundary.
By the time he lapped the last ball of the over to fine-leg boundary, India had the target in their sights, and the crowd, overwhelmingly in favour of India after the ugly scenes couple of evenings back, had sensed that something special was on cards.
Still, a last-ball six? Shankar had again failed to connect a ball in the final over but had squeezed a four through gully off the fourth ball to make it 5 from 2 balls. Though he fell, going for the glory six, at least Karthik was on strike for that final delivery. Still, he isn’t a Miandad or Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Sarkar, who had bowled well in that final over to keep it alive till the last ball, perhaps thought Karthik would move around the crease. Perhaps, like some, he thought it was Karthik of the old. But he wasn’t going anywhere tonight.
Sarkar’s first mistake: the ball was on a length. The second: width outside off. Both obviously would have been pretty fine had Karthik premeditated a heave to the on side. Instead, he stood still, allowed the ball to do its bit, before the crashing blade came down in a blur to wallop the ball flat and hard over covers for the matchwinning six.
Spinning a yarn
The fact that Karthik could pull this off despite so many hiccups in the chase was because of the Indian spinners who had kept Bangladesh to a par total; the talented Washington Sundar and the wily little Yuzvendra Chahal. If anything, the find of this tri-series has been Sundar. Nothing he has done here would have surprised regular IPL watchers, but the calm and assurance he has showed here would have pleased everyone. Chahal did what he does: slow up the pace, throw the odd ball wide outside off, slip in a googly and produce the mistakes.
All that good work would have gone to waste if not for Karthik, who decided to boss around in some style. So many batsmen play this game, but not everyone gets a special moment, this one ball to remember, and be remembered for. Karthik might have had several moments to rue in his career – he was good enough to play as just a Test batsman but didn’t seize it. He was the wicket keeper before Dhoni but let it slip. But luckily, he has hung around, and worked really hard, to earn himself this moment under a moonlit Sri Lankan night that could be tattooed on his brain forever.