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India vs Australia | Dinesh Karthik Embraces Role as India's Designated Finisher

Amid the noise surrounding these two stalwarts, Dinesh Karthik silently made an impact as a finisher.

Karthik Lakshmanan |January 16, 2019, 6:19 PM IST
India vs Australia | Dinesh Karthik Embraces Role as India's Designated Finisher

There's a new finisher in the Indian limited-overs team. Virat Kohli won accolades for yet another match-winning century in the second ODI against Australia. MS Dhoni rekindled fans' nostalgia taking the side over the line with a controlled knock.

Amid the noise surrounding these two stalwarts, Dinesh Karthik silently made an impact as a finisher, scoring a breezy, unbeaten 14-ball 25 from No. 6 that took the pressure off Dhoni in the tense chase. For a batsman who has been in and out, and floated throughout the line-up in his 15-year career, Karthik seems to have finally been identified a specific role.

"I've practiced it (finishing games), worked on it and it's a skill I think is very important," he said after the second ODI. "It's a skill where you need to have a cool head. A lot of experience helps. This is probably one of the hardest skills in the game. To finish a match and be on the winning side is something that is great to be a part of.

"Definitely the team management has told me this is the role for me right now. And they want me to do the best I can. They are backing me completely. They have told me that this is where I'm going to bat and this is what they expect out of me and I'm trying to achieve that."

Evidently, it's a role that has come to Karthik for his success in the Twenty20 format. It all started with that knock in the Nidahas Trophy final last year, and extended into the Indian Premier League where he finished games for Kolkata Knight Riders. More importantly, it was a phase where Karthik showed uncharacteristic calmness, and that he is no longer the fidgety, inconsistent batsman he was.

The string of success in T20s helped revive his career, but it also led to perceptions that Karthik is a T20 specialist. That he can play the quick cameos, but might not always be suited for the longer knocks in ODIs.

These perceptions were not always with reason. In fact, it was in stark contrast to the role he played in the one-day side not too long ago. Since he returned to the Indian ODI set up in July 2017 – he was in the squad for the Champions Trophy the previous month but didn’t get a game - Karthik has shown on many occasions that he can play time, and not just go bang-bang.

In this period, Karthik averages close to 49 from 15 innings, having scored 387 runs with two half-centuries, including seven not outs. What makes it clear that he's not just a T20 hitter is the fact that nine of those knocks came from No. 4. His strike-rate in the period was just 73.85, more because he was playing the situation than the inability to score quicker.

During this period, there were signs that Karthik can be a composed finisher too, even without those T20 knocks. His average while chasing since 2017 is 73, largely helped by six not outs from ten innings. Seven of those knocks came in successful chases, while one came in a tie against Afghanistan in the Asia Cup. That game too could have ended differently had he not been incorrectly given LBW at the fag end of the chase for 44.

Admittedly, none of those chases were the heroic, one-man army efforts - the type that catches the attention of the fans. Those were supporting roles, playing the situation and giving solid company to the set batsman. Those were evidence that Karthik wasn’t throwing away his chances, as he has done in the past.

Yet, the arrival of Ambati Rayudu in the Asia Cup and the subsequent home series against Windies meant Karthik lost out on his middle-order spot. He lost out on a place in the squad as well, for not much fault of his.

But yet again, success in T20 cricket came to his rescue. He scored 30 off 13 and 22* off 18 in two chases in Australia, yet again making a mark as a finisher. This time, he had done enough to convince the team management that he can do the same job in ODIs as well. That he got the role above Kedar Jadhav, who is also a sixth bowling option, says a lot about the faith India have in Karthik the finisher.

Karthik getting the role at No. 6 is also an acknowledgment that MS Dhoni can't do it alone, as he has done in the past. If Karthik can find success consistently in his new role, it will only help Dhoni, like it did in Adelaide. More importantly, if Karthik the finisher experiment comes off, it will help India tick a major box ahead of the World Cup.

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