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'Sometimes I put too much pressure on myself'
Subash Jayaraman: First of all, congratulations on attracting the second-highest bid in the IPL auction. Was there any kind of surprise at the amount that you attracted or were you expecting something along those lines?
DK: I was not expecting it. I had no idea how much I would be going for. This comes as a surprise.
SJ: Let's talk about your domestic and India career. You lived with your parents in the Middle East but then you moved to Chennai as a teenager. How hard was that transition? Most players have a support system around them, but you had to grow on your own.
DK: It was tough because initially I was used to staying with my parents, but then I got comfortable. In this journey I learnt a lot and gained a lot. It taught me a lot of things, made me independent and toughened me as a cricketer.
SJ: Are there times when you think how things might have been different if you were playing in a different era, or whether your career would have developed differently if someone like MS Dhoni had appeared on the scene?
DK: No. I am very, very happy with the way things are. I am not someone who thinks, "Oh I wish this player wasn't there." I always wanted to play as a batsman for Team India and I have achieved it a few times. I want to get back in the team as a batsman and do as well as I can.
SJ: You came into the team and sort of established yourself as the first-choice keeper for Tamil Nadu, and after you did that it was thought to be inevitable that you would be a long-term solution for India behind the stumps. In fact, you debuted ahead of Dhoni in the 2004 season for India and you did that spectacular stumping of Michael Vaughan in your first ODI. There must have been tremendous expectation.
DK: I sometimes feel there are over-expectations on me, [placed] by myself. It has been a journey for me - the whole process, to let go of my ambitions, because it is very easy to sit down and keep thinking about it and get insecure. A better way to look at it is to take it as it comes and keep playing.
SJ: You have been on the India scene for the last ten years now. How would you evaluate how it has gone in that time?
DK: There have been ups and downs. I have played for a bit, then been dropped for a bit, then picked and then dropped. It has never been a case where I have played for the team for three or four years. That is my aim - to play, to be a regular in the team for at least a good three-four years.
SJ: You were suddenly called to open in Newlands, Cape Town, in 2007. What was that like? How prepared were you to play as an opener in the Test team?
DK: I enjoyed it. When I used to open, I used to enjoy it. I was confident and it was a great experience for me. At the end of the day, when you are young, you just want to play for Team India and contribute, and I was no different.
SJ: In terms of technical adjustment, what were the things that you had to do to go from the middle order to being an opener, and that too in South Africa?
DK: I had to obviously play the ball late, look to play time and make sure the ball gets old. So I stay in there for as long as I can. These were my main targets.
SJ: Then you played against Bangladesh and Pakistan. But then you were dropped at the end of 2005. What went on there? Were you satisfied with your output as an opener?
DK: I always think that in a country like India, where cricket is so big, the expectations are very high. It was no different for me. When you are an opener then you are under extra pressure, because if you fail at the top of the innings it looks that much more bad because there are regular openers who are waiting for a game. I played a few innings and obviously international cricket is tough. I was dropped. I was probably okay with that. It is part of life and it is a part of my cricketing journey.
SJ: Are there any regrets? Because as you said it was a makeshift opener role. Did you expect a longer rope?
DK: No, not really. I am not really someone who thinks about the past. I don't even remember half the things until someone has spoken to me about it. I am pretty relaxed. I am very happy. Given a chance, I might do it all over again. I am totally fine. I am not someone who will sit in the past too much.
SJ: A question from a listener, Rajiv: was there any point where you were wondering about giving up wicketkeeping and focusing only on playing for India as a batsman?
DK: No. Keeping is something that came along the way naturally. There have been times when I have done well and there have been times where I have not done well. It has always been a part of me. I enjoy keeping and it is good to have two aspects when you play the sport. It definitely helps.
SJ: As I mentioned earlier, you were dropped after that Pakistan series. But the following year, you went on to play Test matches against Sri Lanka when Dhoni was taking a break. That Sri Lanka series was not great for you as both wicketkeeper and batsman.
DK: It was probably my worst series without a doubt. I didn't get much runs with the bat and we ended up losing the series. It was a very awful series for me personally and for the team.
SJ: I am assuming there was an opportunity to cement a Test spot, as a middle-order batsman or an opener, even if Dhoni came back. The question from a listener is: was that the most haunting failure of your career so far?
DK: Could be. Obviously, I kind of didn't do well in both Test matches, but as I said, these things could happen to any cricketer and I am not any different. You have to take it in your stride and move forward.
SJ: What do you think could be the reason for the inconsistency? Was it because you were used to being a stop-gap option, and it was a no-win situation for you?
DK: I think it has got to do with the mind, because sometimes I put too much pressure on myself [thinking] I will only be getting a couple of chances. That is one part of my game that I want to improve. Whatever chances that I am given, I want to make the best of them, and I expect myself to be the best I can, rather than thinking that I am only going to get a couple of games. It is a mindset change that I require.
SJ: As you just mentioned, you are going to get a couple of opportunities and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. It is a no-win situation. Even if you have done really well, perhaps you were just keeping a seat warm for Dhoni. If you didn't do well, as it happened, people would be like "Karthik had to be dropped." How do you approach such situations?
DK: Another way to look at it is that if I played a couple of games and if I get a hundred, from there on, I can take a place in the side as a batsman. That is a probability, but I didn't do that. I shouldn't be complaining.
SJ: I want to talk a little bit about the era when Greg Chappell was Indian coach. There were many good results for India under his coaching, but it all ended spectacularly badly in the 2007 World Cup. What was it like to be a part of that set-up at that time?
DK: I basically was much junior. I didn't know what was going on much. We played one bad game against Bangladesh and that put us under a lot of pressure against Sri Lanka and we ended up losing. It was a very poor series. If you take the practice matches, we started off very well, but that was a World Cup everyone will like to forget.
SJ: In the two-three years that he was coach, as I said, India had some spectacular results. India had a 15-match ODI winning streak and there were away series wins. Within the team, as a player, did you have freedom to perform or did you have feelings of insecurity or instability?
DK: I wasn't there for much of that period. I was just there during the World Cup, so I won't be able to answer the question thoroughly. It is better you ask someone who had been [in the team] in the two-three-year period. I came towards the end of it. As soon as the World Cup finished, he left and things changed after that.
SJ: I think he said really nice things about you and that there was a possibility of you being the future captain as well. Did you entertain an ambition like that, that you will become a captain some day?
DK: Yeah. It is really good to know that somebody thinks that you are potential captain material. But it was a long way off for me. First thing I needed to do was to be consistent and the rest of it would follow. I haven't done that. I wasn't thinking about being the Indian team captain.
SJ: If you get selected, is there a place that you prefer in the batting order in the Indian side?
DK: I am comfortable at 3, 4, 5. I have been someone who likes to bat at the top of the order, I am comfortable there.
SJ: Do you think you have been given enough opportunities to show what you can do by the Indian selectors?
DK: That is a very debatable question. Nobody, no matter how many runs you score, [sometimes] it doesn't feel enough. and then there are times they feel like a lot. These are debatable questions. I don't look back too much at this stage, I look to keep going forward and do the best I can. I genuinely believe that if you don't think about these things too much, [it] will keep you in a good state.
SJ: When you look at the numbers, you are still four years younger than Dhoni. You are 28, he is 32. So far, his body has been durable, he has been able to do the double duty of wicketkeeping and captaincy. But everyone has a breaking point. Do you still think there is a realistic chance of Dinesh Karthik being the first-choice wicketkeeper?
DK: Definitely. I genuinely believe that if I can bat well and contribute to the team, given the opportunity I will do well for the team. I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be a part of the team.
SJ: There was a period when you were the first-choice wicketkeeper, and then you were the first choice as the second wicketkeeper. Recently Wriddhiman Saha has gone ahead of you, especially in the Test squad. Where do you see yourself with respect to the Indian national team set-up?
DK: I don't know. For me, if I play a domestic season and I score five-six hundreds in ten games, I stand a chance to come into the Indian team. That is what I am trying to achieve with my play. If I do that I will come back. Even now, I am close. I am there or thereabouts. I am missing by not much, but these are things that are out of my hands, and I wouldn't like to think about it too much.
SJ: Recently you came into the Indian squad for the Champions Trophy in England and you played in the tri-series in West Indies and Zimbabwe, but you were left out [of the XI]. What do you think went wrong in your performances?
DK: I had a very tough West Indies series. The pitches were very hard to bat on. Hardly anyone made runs barring Virat [Kohli], I think. Not many got runs. Tough wickets to bat on - 200-220 kind of low-scoring games. Not many were able to get starts and make runs. I didn't do well there, and so that gave room for me to get dropped.
SJ: What is your outlook here on now? You've played for ten years in the national set-up. You may have another ten years to look forward to now, I suppose? Where do you see yourself growing as a cricketer, going further ahead?
DK: For a start, I would love to come back into the team. That's been my ultimate goal in life. I wanted it a touch too much, so I have to relax a bit. Not too many ambitions or goals that I keep setting myself. I keep riding the wave and keep going along as and how times goes.
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Subash's introduction to cricket began with enduring sledging from his brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. His fascination with the game took hold in 1983, but mostly it was the cricket commentary over All India Radio, about the water-tight front-foot defence of Gavaskar that did it. @thecricketcouch