At an apartment in Sydney, Krishna Kumar is sitting on a sofa, clad in RCB shorts, awaiting the arrival of his sons Dinesh and Vinesh. He wasn’t there at the humdinger at the MCG, and has flown in to catch his son Dinesh Karthik play India’s next game against Netherlands on Thursday. A practical man, Krishna believes this T20 world cup could be the swan song for his son.
“We don’t know whether the world cup will be his last appearance for India or there is more. For me, seeing him play at the age of 37, itself is a miracle. If he plays in the next year’s ODI World Cup, it will be a bonus for us. At the same time I’m a practical man, somewhere we all know what will happen after this World Cup … so we all decided to fly and see him play in Australia,” Krishna, who plans to be in Australia for a few days, tells The Indian Express.
There hasn’t been a greater fairytale story in Indian cricket than his son’s comeback in recent times. But there was a touch of fairy tale even at the start of the journey – when Karthik was 12, the father would make a curious decision. Krishna was a teacher in Kuwait and wanted his son to play cricket but knew that Karthik had to be in India. The husband and wife took the tough call to send their 12 year old son to Chennai to his sister-in-law’s home.
The fairy tale peeps out from the father’s next decision in how he decided which school to get Karthik admitted in.
“I didn’t know which school I should put him in. So, what I did was I began to give throw downs to Dinesh in Chennai’s few grounds in anticipation that if some coach sees him, he will help us get into a good school,” Krishna recalls.
A few weeks passed. Nothing much happened. Just the father and the son, knocking balls around, hoping to catch the eye of a coach. Tick tick …
“Then, one day, a local coach, CS Suresh Kumar spotted us. “Dinesh was small but the way he middled always caught everyone’s eye. Suresh was impressed. And he guided us to find admission. Dinesh moved into my sister-in-law’s home and started his new school, and a new life.”
A few months later, Dinesh performance dipped and though he didn’t relay the problem, his father knew the reason: his sister-in-law wanted Karthik to focus more on studies. The couple decided that the mother would move to India while he stayed back in Kuwait.
Seven years later, when he was just 19, Karthik would make his India Test debut. The blinds came down, though, in the shape of the legend MS Dhoni. Years rolled by. Then just when Dhoni vacated the throne behind the stumps, and a new rising star in Rishabh Pant emerged and Karthik had seemingly turned a commentator, he re-emerged as The Finisher to seal a world-cup spot.
The father sees a cosmic hand. “It’s all written somewhere and God has sent everyone with some kind of destiny with them. I know people say Dhoni came and Dinesh had to vacate his place but God had written something else for him. He wanted him to work more hard and grab each opportunity. Till date he never said anything nasty about anyone. He will praise everyone,” Krishna says.
Karthik’s entire family is here in Australia to watch his last dance at the international arena. His younger brother Vinesh is pursuing a MBA in Sydney and a family reunion is on.
As seems to be the case with many cricketing parents, the couple didn’t see Karthik play against Pakistan live.
“His mother was praying, I saw it only when I knew we had won. It was a really high pressure match, I couldn’t have seen it! It’s bound to happen when you see your own child playing, there is a different kind of pressure on parents too. That is why many times we don’t see his game.”
On Tuesday Dinesh would post a video thanking Ashwin for “saving him”. He had got out in the fifth ball of the last over, and would say something to Ashwin on his way out.
“He didn’t reveal it to me,” the father laughs.
A few years back when his career seemed over, Dinesh Karthik reinvented himself.
Krishna said the one quality he likes about his son is that he will find his way back, somehow the other.
First, Karthik hired the former India batsman Pravin Amre as a personal batting coach, and when they tried chasing his batting grip, it led to a wrist injury. The doctors advised him to return to the old way.
“Life changed when Abhishek Nayar came to his life,” his father says. The Mumbai batsman and an old friend would turn into Karthik’s mentor with his unique ways, dragging Karthik out of his comfort zone.
By 2018, Nayar, who is now an IPL coach, had made it clear that Karthik should aim for the role of a specialist batsman of death.
“He (Nayar) made him get up at 2 am in the night and made him run over the hills. He will design practice sessions for him and he travelled like a tennis player. A power hitting coach RX Murali was hired. There is a team which works and talks to him. Few times, I have been part of a session where Dinesh has told me to record my conversation with Nayar. And the level of talk is hard to explain for a common man,” Krishna says. He had his own coach, trainer, psychologist, whom he trusted and sought their advice to become a specialist death batsman. The once restless nervous-energetic man has now morphed into a calm cold finisher; so calm that he at times doesn’t even appeal behind the stumps.
Good things began to happen. These days, it’s reaching another level with the chants of ‘DK DK’ heard around cricketing arenas. Imagine taking the spot of exciting talent like Pant and yet being loved by the fans all over.
Not just fans, but the Indian captain Rohit Sharma values him. On field, he often consults Karthik. Many of his team-mates trust him as well. He is close to KL Rahul and Hardik Pandya. He has a great relationship with Kohli. In the nets he will keep talking to R Ashwin in Tamil, guiding him whether he is bowling fine or not.
“Being the eldest helps and Rohit asks him because he trusts him. Remember, both started career at the same time and go back a long way,” his father says.
Before he marched his way back into the team as a finisher, his stint with Sky Sports as an insightful commentator had taken the cricketing world by surprise.
Not his father, of course. “I have seen him mute his laptop and practice his commentary on any cricket match that was on.” Krishna had earlier seen Ravi Shastri doing this too. And just as it seemed a life behind the microphone beckoned, Karthik has reinvented himself again: for one last lap as an international cricketer. One for the road. With his family watching him from the stands. Sometimes, fairytales do come true.