An intriguing battle: Dinesh 'Anna' vs Karnataka
- The cat and mouse game between Dinesh Karthik and Karnataka bowlers on Day 3.
“Come on Dinesh Anna...Dinesh Anna (elder brother) come on...” For the most part of the 340 minutes spent by Tamil Nadu batsman Dinesh Karthik (113, 235 balls, 16 x4s) in the middle against a spirited Karnataka bowling attack, ‘Dinesh Anna’ chants from the TN dressing room were heard loud and clear at the NPR College grounds, Dindigul.
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The context: Karthik and Tamil Nadu had already endured quite a few heart-breaks this season against Karnataka. Led by Karthik, TN were hammered by Karnataka in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final and the latter once again shocked TN by the narrowest of margins - 1 run - in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy Finale. TN are desperate to go one step better this season against the same opponent in the Ranji Trophy opener.
The moment TN lost their top four batsmen in pursuit of Karnataka’s 336, everyone - journalists, scorers, Karnataka players, TN cricketers, some of the college students who had made their way to watch the contest, people who follow TN cricket and Ranji Trophy scores on social media - knew it was always going to be Dinesh Anna vs Karnataka from thereon.
Karthik, fondly called DK, is known for his swashbuckling batting approach irrespective of the format. It could be 10 minutes for stumps but DK would still go for a reverse sweep. Bad light offer on the cards but Karthik would still go for that audacious hit. The odd scoop, like the one against Mumbai in 2016 Ranji Trophy season opener, would eventually land himself and the team in a spot of bother.
But that’s what Karthik is. A match-winner. He has come up with blazing hundreds and cameos on rank turners and green tops to set up games for Tamil Nadu.
Back to the Karnataka contest. Offie Gowtham had already picked up three wickets on a tricky wicket on Day 2. TN needed Karthik to be out there for at least three sessions to get anywhere close to Karnataka’s 336. As expected, Karthik started with a reverse sweep with dark clouds hovering around.
Karthik is fidgety. He has his own routines. He shakes his head, at times draws, some kind of a symbol may be, with his bat on the ground, tap down and rise up with a slightly bent posture as the bowler is on his way, fiddles around with his gloves, takes a few steps towards square leg umpire. There is always a yes-no situation around the corner with Karthik in the middle, you feel something is going to happen every ball.
Most things mentioned above did eventually happen at some point in time during the last two days. But something was unique about this Karthik. It was all about discipline and determination. TN coach D Vasu had mentioned earlier on Day 1 that it was the kind of pitch where you need to grind it out as a batsman. Runs were hard to come by.
Gowtham was right on the money, at stumps. There were men around the bat. But Karthik was resolute in defending. Karthik had a partner in B Aparajith who is tight in defence. Medium-pacers Ronit More and David Mathias played on Karthik’s patience with the fifth stump attack.
They knew all it needed was a split second for the daredevil in Karthik to appear and flash at one outside the off-stump to keep the slip cordon interested. Let’s not forget the fact that he has been India’s finisher in T20s over the last year or so. However, Karthik was keen on letting most deliveries go behind to the keeper. Every time Karthik shouldered arms, ‘come on Dinesh Anna’ followed suit.
At one stage, he was scoring at a strike rate of 39 per 100 balls. That’s not what you expect from Karthik.
“Ideally I would like to get off to a flier in terms of balls per runs. But sometimes when as a player you have played so much, that’s what is important... you are able to control and see what’s important for the team and play according to the situation,” Karthik said later in the evening.
Karnataka bowlers tested Karthik with different tactics. Mathias kept bowling at the stumps and gave nothing away, More was swinging both the old and new ball in and out at pace, V Koushik extracted awkward bounce from a length.
You don’t expect Karthik to score just five fours after a session that’s lasted two and a half hours (the first session of a Ranji Trophy match is two and a half hours). Karthik was happy hiding his bat inside his right pocket for a long time. Where was the reverse sweep? Where was the slog over mid-wicket?
“A lot of times I wanted to do a lot of things differently...going over the top or playing reverse sweeps but you got to control, take the team into account. Having played for 10-15 years, if you are going to play reckless shots just because you know how to play a shot, then that will be very immature on my part. I think that’s where my cricket has grown as well…(I would say) it was a matured knock,” reflected Karthik on his innings.
Karthik knew the Ashwins - R & M - could give him company. He didn’t pull the trigger even as TN lost half the side with TN almost 130 runs behind. He ran hard with R Ashwin for company in the first session on Day 3. He waited for the odd short delivery from Shreyas Gopal or Gowtham and punished them.
Post lunch, both the Ashwins departed in quick succession leaving DK with No 9, 10 and Jack. Karthik had to change gears with TN still 82 runs behind Karnataka and he still had complete control of things shielding R Sai Kishore from Gowtham and Co as well coming up with some powerful hits.
Southpaw Sai, who is a capable bat, let Karthik and TN down with a rash shot. With a flurry of boundaries, Karthik soon registered his 28th first-class hundred but debutant M Siddharth couldn’t hold on for long.
Eventually and finally, Karnataka saw the back of Karthik, the final man dismissed, much to the agony of the TN dressing room as Karthik failed in his attempt to clear the long-off boundary off Gowtham. It seemed at that juncture that Karnataka once again got the better of Karthik and TN with a slender 29-run first-innings lead.
However, inspired by Karthik’s knock, TN bowlers led by K Vignesh and R Ashwin, have reduced Karnataka to 89/5 (lead by 118 runs) in the second innings. If TN bowlers can get rid of Karnataka’s lower middle-order early in the first session on the final day, then one could well see a dashing ‘Dinesh Anna’ going for an outright win.Published 11 Dec 2019, 19:22 IST