India v Pakistan, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 4th day March 19, 2005

Karthik turns it around

Dinesh Karthik answered his critics with a superb knock under pressure © AFP

On the fourth day of the Mohali Test, Dinesh Karthik had every reason to be nervous. Not because he was bleeding byes off some wayward bowling, not because he had wasted a golden opportunity to prove to the world that he could handle a bat, but because there was a realistic possibility that he would not be picked for the second Test. It is no secret that Kiran More, the chairman of selectors, prefers Parthiv Patel, and has been making a strong case for his return to the fold. And Sourav Ganguly certainly wasn't averse to the idea. But, in 208 minutes of dazzling batting, Karthik banished such ideas into the deep recesses, for the moment anyway.

"I was not really under pressure. I had confidence in my ability. Rahul [Dravid] was there at the other end, and that made my job easier," Karthik would say at the end of the day. Yet, when Karthik came out to bat India were trickily poised at 156 for 4, with VVS Laxman having retired hurt after a sickening blow above the left eyebrow. For a moment India, though powered by a Dravid special, were in danger of squandering the initiative. Had they lost a wicket, Pakistan would have been into the tail, and in with a serious chance of getting right back into the game.

Karthik had other ideas. The one consistent complaint about his batting is that he tries to play far too many shots. He does not believe in offering a dead bat, and tries to manufacture strokes. But, that is only a manifestation of the confidence he has in his own ability, and on the day it served India well.

Karthik refused to be cowed down when the bowlers, inspired by a hostile spell from Mohammad Sami, put in maximum effort. It certainly helped that he had Dravid, batting at his peak, as a partner. The two ran for each other, pinching singles and irritating fielders in the circle, on a swelteringly hot day. Their fluency made it impossible for Pakistan's bowlers to build up any sort of pressure.

Danish Kaneria, forced to resort to a restrictive line, bowling into the rough created by bowlers' footmarks, suffered the most from Karthik's nimble hand-work. Karthik came down the wicket and half-flicked, half-drove the ball through midwicket; he rocked back and pulled square when midwicket was back on the fence; he swept hard and fine. But the first indication of the manner in which he rattled the Pakistanis came when they sent four fielders, stationed at fine leg, square leg, long-on and long-off, to the ropes. And then, Karthik, after carefully surveying the field, reverse-swept Kaneria from a foot outside leg stump for four.

Even when Dravid was finally dismissed, after a stand of 165 that had put India right back on top, Karthik, who was on 85, did not slow down. There was a century for the taking, but he refused to think about that, constantly looking to innovate and score boundaries. When he finally fell for 93, scored from 140 balls with 13 fours, he got a standing ovation from a noisily appreciative crowd. Had he been more careful, and selfish, he could have plodded along meticulously and got the seven more runs he needed to reach a milestone that is the holiest of them all to most cricketers. But he would not have won the hearts of the crowd, the absolute confidence of his team-mates or the faith of the selectors.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.