'A hundred was on the cards' - Karthik
"The first time he really began to take an interest in cricket", Dinesh Karthik's father once confessed, "was when ESPN started showing matches from the English County Championship." Growing up in Kuwait, where his father worked, Karthik couldn't catch too much of cricket when school was on but during summer holidays, with the county season in progress, he was usually glued to the television set.
Watching a match was always followed by a session in the backyard, where he imagined batting on some charming ground in England. His childhood hero was, believe it or not, Graham Thorpe, mainly because - and this is more surprising because it was the time when Sachin Tendulkar was brutalising Shane Warne - "of the ease with which he played spin". It was fitting that, on the most charming of grounds, in front of a packed Saturday crowd, with Thorpe watching on television, he went about setting up India's platform. Actually, given this was India's first century opening stand in England since 1979, it was more like a terminus.
Karthik accepted he was "lucky" to get away - the ball whizzed past the outside edge regularly, the bat swished away from the body occasionally, and umpire Ian Howell turned down one dead-certain lbw appeal. But a Karthik innings isn't remembered for its flawless quality; what's appealing is the punch and effervescence. He first opened in Tests in January; five Tests on, he's crossed 50 as many times. Luck can't explain everything.
On the flip side, only one of those has been converted to a century. "A hundred was there for the asking today," he shrugged, "and to get out in the first ball after tea was definitely disappointing. If I'd gone on, a hundred was on the cards."
This series was supposed to be a farewell for the Fab Four, and it might yet end up that way, but there have been quite a few glimpses of India's future. Karthik is the second youngest member of the squad (the youngest, RP Singh, was an unlikely hero at Lord's). He is part of a generation that will have to come to terms with a large void once the elder statesmen walk into the sunset. How does he judge his work so far? "You guys should tell me that," he chirps, "but I think I've done a good job till now. I've worked on areas I was weak at in domestic cricket. Now to be here in England and score a couple of fifties gives me a good feeling."
It can't be easy transforming from a wicketkeeper to a specialist opener; replacing a maverick must be harder still. It's tough to imagine Virender Sehwag notching up five fifties in as many Tests but what you can expect is a whirlwind innings that cracks a match open. Karthik and Wasim Jaffer have brought a certain solidity to the top of the order. "Every series we've played till now, we've got a century stand," Karthik says of his association with Jaffer at the top. "Be it South Africa, Bangladesh or England, so that's phenomenal. We need to give the team a good start so that the middle order can consolidate."
Starting wasn't easy today, especially in the period before lunch when the ball jagged around prodigiously. "The new ball was definitely doing a bit, probably not as much as yesterday, but they had two good swing bowlers as well. Sidebottom bowled well to me today, he hit me on the box a couple of times, got me on the hand. But we needed to be positive and it later became like any other pitch."
Walking back to the pavilion, he crossed Sachin Tendulkar, whom he termed "the greatest player" he'd ever seen. India had seen what the future held; now it was time for the rest to roll back the years.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo