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Dinesh Karthik: The Unfinished Story

On Sunday night, Dinesh Karthik, or DK, as he has come to be known, lit up the Nidahas tri-series Final in a short format that suits the stylishness of his initials. With 34 needs off the last two overs, Karthik made up for the struggles of Manish Pandey and debutant Vijay Shankar, by smashing 29 off a mere 8 balls – including a Miandad-ish last-ball six that clinched India’s third T20 international title. It was a stunning finish to a closely fought series between three South Asian teams missing the extra spice of the no. 1 ranked Pakistan.

Karthik, India’s third-choice wicketkeeper, replaced a rested MS Dhoni and out-of-form Rishabh Pant for the series. The prefix “replaced an injured” in fact defines most of Karthik’s stop-start international career. For years, because of the rise of Dhoni, Karthik’s career has resembled that of a domestic journeyman who would never quite be good enough at the highest level. The opportunities he got were interspaced between weak oppositions, tricky conditions and injured senior players – never really letting him feel secure enough for a consistent stretch of matches without having to prove himself. His ODI average of 29 over 80 games, along with a Test average of 28 over 23 matches, were an indicator of the keeper’s limited exposure. He has copped a lot of flak over the years even as a keeper for IPL teams – at one point even being bought for an astronomical fee by a franchise. In the Nidahas series, India won four out of their five games – with Karthik never allowed to bat at above the position of 6. He believed he was in good form, but was never allowed to capitalize. In the end, he used 8 balls to prove his point. He remained unbeaten in his four innings throughout the series.

This timeless last-ball six aside, here are the most fascinating facts of player Dinesh Karthik’s long career – one that is finally seeing timing and perseverance merge on the big stage under the garb of late talent:

– Karthik and Suresh Raina, who were the senior players of India in this T20 series, were the only two survivors of India’s first-ever T20 match played back in 2006 against South Africa in Johannesburg. Karthik was even adjudged Man of the Match for his unbeaten 31 in a low-scoring chase.

– The 32-year-old keeper made his test debut way back in 2004, in the third test match of Australia’s winning tour of India. India won that match in Mumbai in under two days. This makes Karthik the only survivor of 2004 in this current Indian setup.

– Karthik has only ever scored one international century across all three formats in the last thirteen years. It came against – no surprises – Bangladesh in Dhaka in 2007, the same team that suffered at his hands on Sunday night in Colombo.

– Karthik is the only surviving member of India’s victorious side that won the Test series in England in 2007. This has been India’s only Test series victory in England since 1986. Karthik didn’t top score in any of the three matches, but finished the series as India’s highest scorer with 263 runs as an opener. His opening partner was Wasim Jaffer, and MS Dhoni played as the wicketkeeper.

– Karthik played the doomed 2007 ODI World Cup in West Indies, but was also a part of the young T20 team that triumphed in South Africa the same year. He was however dropped on poor form before the semifinal. India’s winning captain on Sunday, Rohit Sharma, was the boy who replaced Karthik for India’s final two matches of the 2007 ICC World T20.

– Karthik’s unfortunate career was best symbolized by India’s victorious Champions Trophy campaign in England in 2013. Karthik was the only batsman to score two successive centuries in two warm-up matches. However, even though he batted at number 4 in the tournament, he got limited opportunities – with just one fifty and a couple of not outs, given the scintillating form of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma.

– Karthik is one of the few Indian players to have played for SIX IPL teams over his career since 2008. This included a double stint at the Delhi Daredevils, and a crucial tournament-defining stint at no. 3 for the Mumbai Indians in 2013 when they won their first (of three) titles. Karthik scored 510 runs in that season, but was not retained in 2014 by Mumbai. He has scored almost 700 runs over two seasons for the now-defunct Gujarat Lions. Karthik, for the first time in his IPL career, will be the starting captain – of Kolkata Knight Riders in the 2018 edition.

– Karthik started his career as a batsman, but turned to wicket keeping to improve his chances of making the team. Ironically, it was often his inconsistent keeping that kept him out of contention during the era of MS Dhoni.

– Karthik holds the unwanted Indian record of facing the maximum deliveries in an ODI without scoring a run. He was dismissed for the 18-ball duck against Sri Lanka in December, 2017, a match in which MS Dhoni top-scored for the team.

– Karthik has played 6 T20 international matches in 2018 alone. He has never played more than four for India in a year before this one. In 2017 and 2007, he played four each.