Dinesh Karthik: Man of comebacks and Dhoni’s understudy calls time on IPL and international career

PTI, May 23, 2024, 7:26 PM IST

Dinesh Karthik’s international career was a classic case of what could have been after the arrival of Mahendra Singh Dhoni but on Wednesday, when he said goodbye to the game at the end of his team’s IPL campaign, it was from a stage he made his own over the past 17 years.

The Eliminator between his Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Rajasthan Royals ended up being Karthik’s swansong, bringing down curtains on a 20-year-old career marked by a series of comebacks across formats.

Twenty six Tests, 94 ODIs and 60 T20s over two decades don’t make for eye-popping numbers but the forever fidgety 38-year-old managed to stay relevant till the very end despite spending more time in the commentary box than on the field over the past couple of years.

Ahead of the T20 World Cup squad announcement, Karthik forced himself into the selection debate for the wicket-keeper batter’s role with head-turning performances for RCB but that one final comeback wasn’t meant to be as selectors rightly went for younger talent.

While he was commentating on the India-England Test series in February-March, Karthik had made up his mind on retirement but the world only got to know when Michael Atherton let it slip in a podcast with the Tamil Nadu stumper.

Having played for as many as six teams in the IPL since the tournament’s inception in 2008, Karthik can be proud of his record in the world’s premier T20 league.

He finished as an IPL winner with close to 5000 runs over 17 seasons besides taking 145 catches and effecting 37 stumpings.

He batted at various positions all these years but his days at the RCB as a finisher over the past three seasons stood out.

In a format increasingly ruled by power-hitters, Karthik relied on his experience, game awareness and touch to find the boundaries at will.

His 330 runs at a strike rate of 183 in 2022 earned him a recall to the Indian team for the T20 World Cup but that happened to be his last time in national colours.

He scored at an even higher clip this season but despite making himself available for the upcoming World Cup, he deep down knew his comeback saga with Indian cricket had come to an end.

Karthik had his moments in stop-start India career 

The Chennai-born cricketer was only 19 when he made his India debut in an ODI against England at Lord’s in September 2004.

He announced his arrival on the big stage with a spectacular stumping of opposition skipper Michael Vaughan.

Three months later, he made his Test debut against Australia but his international career could never really take off due to middling performances and rise of Dhoni.

With Dhoni a certainty in the playing eleven, Karthik was asked to open the batting on the tour of England in 2007 and he made a standout contribution in the team’s rare Test series win away from home.

Between 2010 and 2017, Karthik remained sought after in the world of IPL but his stock fell sharply in the national team.

He got back in the scheme of things following India’s loss to Pakistan in the 2017 Champions Trophy final.

Between 2017 and 2019, Karthik regularly played for India in the white-ball formats. His memorable knocks included the iconic last ball six that helped India seal the 2018 Nidahas T20 Trophy in Colombo.

Couple of months later, he made a Test comeback after eight years but that was short-lived.

Karthik was seen as a certainty for the 2019 ODI World Cup but by his own admission, he was shocked to know about his exclusion from the home series against Australia, ahead of the ICC event in England.

The selectors surprisingly brought him back for the World Cup where he only got three games, including the ill-fated semifinal against New Zealand.

The final chapter of his comeback story unfolded after a stellar IPL in 2022 but like on previous instances, Karthik could not seize the opportunity and could only manage only 14 runs in three innings at the T20 World Cup in Australia.

By his own admission, his India career could have been so much more but there was no shame in being overshadowed by someone like Dhoni.

The consistency that he lacked in international cricket was his friend in the IPL and his significant contribution was duly recognised by his RCB teammates on Wednesday night including the great Virat Kohli who was the first one to acknowledge his long career.

Karthik will be back in the commentary box soon and could be seen playing the T20 leagues outside the IPL.

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