The last ten overs of a T20 clash often define the result of the game. Thus far in IPL 2022, the average score for a wicket during overs (10-20) is 25.4 and the average strike rate is 155.1.
A 36-year-old Dinesh Karthik tops the scoring charts during those overs, turning games around for fun for the Royal Challengers Bangalore. In the last ten overs, the right-hander averages 197, being dismissed only once during the season, striking at 209.6.
"I have bigger goals. I've been working really hard. My aim is to do something special for the country. This is part of my journey," Karthik said during the post-match presentation.
Only twice in six innings has the Tamil Nadu cricketer scored at a strike rate lower than 200. His strike-rate in six innings reads: 228.57, 200, 191.30, 350, 242.86, 194.12. And in all the innings, he has hit at least one six. What has really changed?
Karthik has been sublime for years now, in fact, in between the year 2018-19, the right-hander averaged 56.5 for India batting at No.6 or lower striking the ball at 161.4. The 36-year-old has been one of the rare few batters in the country, who both understands the role of being a finisher and the pressure that comes alongside it.
"Because, I feel it's (finisher) a key part that the Indian team is looking out as well - closing out matches and have someone who can understand those situations and do the best at that point of time,” Karthik said back in 2019, prior to the T20 World Cup in the Middle East, in an interview with ESPNCricinfo.
The tag of being a “finisher” is a big boot to fill and Royal Challengers Bangalore has nailed Karthik’s role to perfection. The franchise, largely data-driven, have understood the nuances of the ever-growing format of the game, in regards to the entry point and match-ups.
Barring three instances, Karthik has always walked out to bat after the 14th over of the innings. And in all the three innings, RCB were reduced to five down, which tied their hands, forcing the wicketkeeper-batter to walk out.
In the IPL since 2020, Dinesh Karthik scores at a strike rate of 107.8 and averages 12.9 when he comes into bat at the 12th over or before. Whereas, when he comes into bat in the 13th overs or later, he has an average of 40.8 with a strike rate of 162.3.
Last year, there was plenty of chaos in how RCB had used the data, in regards to the entry point of AB de Villiers. It is not that Karthik isn’t capable of batting higher up the order but it is about maximizing the potential of the right-hander, which after the 14th over is a big boon.
On Sunday, against Delhi Capitals, Karthik once again walked out to bat in the 12th over of the innings, as they were reduced to 92/4. It was evident in how sedate the start was for Karthik, scoring just seven runs off his first 13 balls during his stay. Over the next 21 deliveries, he smashed 59 runs, showing his worth as a finisher.
But even before Karthik had walked out to bat, it was important to notice how the franchise had used Shahbaz Ahmed – the batter – and maximized his potential.
“Shahbaz is a special player, he will do special things as a player. He is up for a challenge. He can hit the ball a long way,” credited Karthik, who was also named as the Player of the Match.
At the domestic level, Ahmed has shown his prowess with the bat, his abilities are well known, thanks to the scouting system for the IPL franchises. While RCB have attempted to maximize his potential last season, in 2022, they could not have done anything better.
The left-hander has only come out to bat at No.6 in most games, barring the one but his role has been fixated. And that shows in his strike rate, at 152.38, 151.85, 173.08, and 135, wherein he has taken the pressure of playing the spinners, with the franchise not exposing Karthik in the fire. Ahmed, the batter has made a prominent role this season for RCB in their quest for a maiden title.
Dinesh Karthik and the T20 World Cup question
In the past, Karthik has expressed that the management’s decision to drop him from the shortest format might have been clubbed by his performance in the ODI format of the game. Thus far this season, Karthik has put no wrong foot, being dismissed just once during the course of the tournament.
“I am doing everything I can to be part of the India team. Feels good to know that people associate calmness with me. Positions and calmness come from preparation,” said Karthik.
Now the major question, of course, is where can India find a place to field the 36-year-old. Game after game, in the toughest T20 league, the right-hander has shown skills, power and absolute intelligence to turn the tide in his favour. Even if it meant that he had to give up on his red-ball career for Tamil Nadu, Karthik did not hesitate, taking the role of finisher very seriously.
The right-hander’s weakness against spin is well-known but it is highly credit-worthy on how he plays the exact match-up. Against pace, Karthik strikes at 248.33, scoring a boundary every 2.4 deliveries, with a six every fifth delivery. But against spin, the numbers are 141.18, a boundary every 4.9 deliveries.
While it isn’t easy for India to find a place for the 36-year-old, it would be too rude in their part if they don’t attempt the search in the first place. Karthik is a special player, not because of all the runs but because of the way he has understood his role to perfection.
With India struggling to find finishers, who could maximize on their potential, Karthik’s evergreen form can not be tossed away like a coin.
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