To succeed as a batsman, one must not be too stressed about success and batting, or so it is said by the erudite analysts!
The batting career of Dinesh Karthik might well have been an interesting case study for cricket analysts and even for a famous detective like Sherlock Holmes, a great fictional reader of men, given the churn of his restless mind and wasteful expend of energies, as betrayed by his body language. None in their right minds would ever surmise that DK has a meditative, calm mind, a factor so essential to have at one's command at the frayed and edgy international circuit!
DK, who has experienced dizzying headiness after a fabulous attack on the Bangladeshi bowlers at sudden death time, also made a lot of discerning viewers to reflect, by virtue of that stunning assault, not only on Bangladesh bowlers, but also on the psyche and senses of an Indian fan, following his progress or regress over time.
His painful metamorphosis from just being an oodle of talent and a frightening thought of "a might have been" to this present calm self-epitomizes the above adage. It is quite clear that DK has palpably enjoyed his cricket going by the returns he has mustered in the last two seasons in the local circuit to storm the door ajar and walk into the Indian side.
His almost single-handed dominance in Tamil Nadu's title triumphs in 2016-17, paved the path for his return to the fold, a changed man and a batsman with a tweak in his attitude and approach to batting, as well as his life as an international player.
That, after his comeback, he has bided his time patiently with MS Dhoni still around, is a reflection of the happy space he appears to be in. A consummate professional with a rekindled fire in the belly, he is mature enough to allow the process that he believes in, to do the goods.
And boy, did he do it in swag and style at the Premadasa stadium!
That he is not also unduly frazzled and stressed about selections, batting order number etc is a sure sign that he has realized that stress is a good slave and a bad master. Scoring runs consistently under intense scrutiny and warding off competition is enough pressure for a player, not to inflict further misery on a game by worrying about complex avoidable factors like selections comparisons etc.
Earlier, DK, in his first avatar, notwithstanding sporadic success, appeared twitchy and fidgety, found ways to tie and twisted himself in knots that it almost wrecked him not to express his true skillsets; the gnawing worry for a player is to be eaten up by the regret of ending one's career as an underachiever after one hangs his boots.
Self admittedly, two and half years ago, in an amazing voyage of self discovery, he shook himself up from his cozy comfort zone with the help of Mumbai's Abhishek Nayar, working hard on his self with zealous training: with less thrust and focus on the results and more emphasis on the process and pursuits, much akin to the very path that he joyously embraced as an eager youngster at the turn of the millennium.
The first time I met him was, at the now famous MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai, when, as a cherubic and bubbling young kid of 16, oozing with enthusiasm, he joined us to play for MRF. He was all eyes and ears as all young boys are, soaked up the ambiance and, at times, had to be almost surgically removed from the nets which had good, true batting pitches, as he could never have enough of it!
I recall, even back then, he had remarkably fast hands as a batsman, essaying his sizzling cuts with a rapier-like blade. His cat-like reflexes as a wicketkeeper shone through with his acrobatic dives, that emanated from a rubber-like body, evidence of which was seen in his screaming catch at gully flying like a gull in full flight in a 2007 World T20 game.
His ton in the Ranji finals versus Mumbai and against a raging Munaf Patel at Chennai in March 2004, catapulted him to Indian colors later that year, coming as it did on the heels of a savage attack in what seemed like a lost cause in an acid semi-final counter at the Under-19 level in late 2003.
That he lost his way soon was sad as he looked like the Curate's egg, good in parts.
Despite velvety glove work in Mumbai in his Test debut on a diabolical minefield at Wankhede versus the Aussies, a stunning 90-plus at Kolkata, sharing a face-saving late order stand of 160+ with Rahul Dravid against Pakistan in March 2005, was a classic case of youthful energy lost on the young, with a propensity to self-destruct with ill harnessed direction of his bubbling energy.
His form swung like a pendulum with a top-score of 46 in tour digs against the South Africans at home and at Bangladesh in late 2004.
Then he lost direction, and his spot to Dhoni, his junior not by age, was a result of the latter's ability to crank up and adapt his style and efficiency by sheer application of will, an individualistic natural self. On the other hand, DK, approached the task of wearing the Indian shirt, seemingly with an alien changeable self, unsure, and not adopting the natural ways that fetched him cartloads of runs in the domestic circuit.
Dhoni ,meanwhile, longhaired and larrikin, lacerated the visiting Pakistan and shredded the Sri Lankans at Vizag and Jaipur respectively with maniacal blitz that cascaded 'run rains' with scores of 148 and 183*, in successive one day series in 2005, enough to earn him the stripes at the top of the pecking order, thereby relegating DK to the back burner.
MS progressed further with an innings of astonishing brilliance at Faisalabad in early 2006, inflicting maddening mayhem on a bristling Akhtar, to further cement his slot.
Post the World Cup debacle of 2007, DK, with a good ton at Bangladesh and a decent tour of England in the summer of 2007 as an opener, particularly at Trent Bridge, seemed to have the moorings back, only momentarily alas!
To lose the plot and spot again in SL in July 2008, with 4 failures, even as Dhoni opted out of the tour after the first IPL, was a case of shooting his own self.
Unable to grab another opportunity in early 2010, versus the Bangladeshis in an away tour, DK has now not figured in the Test match scheme for more than 8 years! His one-day comeback in 2013, after twin tons in a Duleep Trophy final, again was short-lived, as he lost his one day spot on the eve of the World Cup 2015 to the likes of Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane and Ambati Rayadu, which may well have been his lowliest point.
A lesser man may have packed it in but DK-2, reinvented in 2016, despite swapping four IPL franchises, endured a melancholic domestic life, which put into perspective the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune on a cricket field, that pales in poor comparison.
It is a tribute to his stoic and grim character that has earned him the plaudits, with signals of potential achieved and fulfilled, even as he displayed no rancor or delirium after his calculated assault in the final. That he has grown vastly in the intervening tumultuous phase showed a man who understood his role and his batting skills with greater depth.
It was heartening to witness, more so because there was no wild histrionics or emotions, after the demotion in the batting order, but for a calm pair of hands held aloft in silent celebration. Through the whole period of wild frenzy, he was grinning like an eager schoolboy, basking in the accolades with carefully chosen sound bytes, waxing eloquent about the journey, its process, the virtues of hard-nosed hard teamwork, not forgetting to thank the support staff in ample measure.
Here is wishing the boy, 'morphed' into a man at last, with a realization that cricket was meant to be a game, not a life or death struggle. His change from an ugly caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly seemed a nonce, ending and resting ages of self-doubt and naysayers.
Here's wishing Dinesh unending success in the Indian shirt in both the shorter formats, in the years to come, with a prospect of a certain MS Dhoni upon maybe a silent reflection, likely to pack it in anytime soon, at least in T20, with the next T20 WC in 2020!
Take a bow, DK!Published 21 Mar 2018, 23:29 IST