WI vs Ind, 1st T20I

Ravindra Jadeja in frustration runs his bat over the stumps after slashing Alzarri Joseph straight to short third. India is 138 for 6 in 16 overs on a grippy two-speed field in Tarouba. Jason Holder and Co take regular pace and keep the ball out of reach of the batters. The West Indies feel they are on to something, with a packed crowd gathering around them.

However, Dinesh Karthik crashes the West Indies side, in the first international match at Brian Lara Stadium, with an unbeaten 19-ball 41 that takes India to 190 for 6. On a tricky surface, where wickets fell in clusters, Karthik is the only Indian batter to have struck more than 150.

After skillfully closing innings for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, and for India in the T20Is against South Africa at home, Karthik delivered one last act, this time in the Caribbean, extending his advocacy for inclusion in the XI of India on the T20 reinforced. World Cup, which starts in Australia in October later this year.

Since the start of IPL 2022, Karthik has struck at 210.91 at the death overs in T20 cricket. Of those who have played at least ten innings during this period, only Tim David (226.72) and James Neesham (220.45) have better batting rates.

Sure, Karthik trained the house for the finisher role, but the conditions and circumstances stacked against him on Friday. He was on 17 of 12 balls at one point; there were no good batting options for India outside of him, and the ball kept stopping at the batters. However, Karthik would be unstoppable.

When Holder missed a yorker, Karthik shuffled across and threw it all in a drive that sailed over midwicket six times. Holder then went around the stumps and bent a long ball over him, but Karthik stretched out like Mister Fantastic from the Marvel universe and said it over the blankets, where there was no protection in the deep, for four. To add to the West Indies’ pain, they were only able to have four fielders outside the 30-yard circle due to an in-game penalty for their slow overspeed.

Karthik hurt them even more in the last over by hitting the ball two more fours and another six over the infield. In that last over, Karthik used a higher backlift, pointing to the first slip, AB de Villiers style to generate extra power against Obed McCoy’s substitutions.

On the other hand, Ashwin sat back and gushed, “nallarukku [This is good]DK!” Ashwin used to be one of those who traveled to Chepauk just to watch Karthik. Karthik is now at the peak of his ability and has such role clarity and confidence that he can pass regardless of the finish of conditions.

“I enjoyed it [the finisher’s role] a lot; it’s a very interesting role,” Karthik said during the post-match presentation after taking home the Player-of-the-Match award. “It’s not something you can be consistent in, but on the days that you do it right, you can make an impact for the team. You need the support of the captain and coach that I have in abundance, so that really helps.

“What’s important is judging the wicket. On any given day in the last four-five overs when you hit, there are many things to look out for – the shape of the ball, the softness of the ball, [the nature of] the wicket, what kind of shots you can play, and then you have to decide. That comes with a little practice and understanding the different aspects of hitting.”

Karthik has always been big on practice and play time. Prior to IPL 2022, he had traveled to Theni, about 500km from Chennai, to play a T20 tournament for his club India Cements. Prior to the Caribbean tour, when Karthik needed some playing time, he traveled to Coimbatore to play a T20 game for his TNPL side Tiruppur Tamizhans on a slow ground.

He continues to put all that preparation to good use and proves people wrong, at age 37. In the BeerBiceps podcast, even Karthik’s confidant Shanker Basu, who is also the Royal Challengers fitness coach, said he had ruled out an international comeback from Karthik.

Karthik has made such a strong comeback that India’s team management is now open to swapping the position of other batters to let him do his thing at death. He even captained the Indians in two warm-up T20s in England, and after his final act, he is now one step closer to finishing the upcoming T20 World Cup.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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