Karthik set to soar
India's tour to South Africa last year saw two contrasting comebacks, both involving batsmen. The first, Sourav Ganguly's, has been a remarkable return from hell; the second, Dinesh Karthik's, is much like a restoration of order. Karthik's rebirth as an international cricketer and transformation into a specialist batsman have been special. But his seamless transition from a fringe player to a vital member is even more so.
He returned to the side at the start of the year, for the New Year's Test at Cape Town. Since then he has reeled off 63, 56, 129, 60, 77, 91 in six Tests. India's search for openers has gone on for decades, yet suddenly here's a non-specialist responding with poise - and he comes with punch, confidence and verve. He said he wouldn't have imagined such a sequence and added, "I am very happy with the way things have gone so far."
At 11:00 this morning he ran onto The Oval; two minutes to lunch he hurried a single that brought up his fifty; ten minutes past three he wafted at a slightly wide one, stood transfixed for a moment and rushed back to the pavilion. Such was the haste that he almost forgot to acknowledge the cheers.
Facing the press at the end of the day, he looked shattered. "I think I batted very well" he said, in a completely resigned tone. Even the umpire escaped criticism (despite the snickometer showing no nick): "there was a small nick, there is no doubt about that". His body language suggested a strange hopelessness; strange, because his innings had evoked so much hope.
It was an innings in which he exploited a good pitch, one where he cashed in on a crucial toss. On a day when India couldn't slip, he blunted the new ball and attacked in due course. When beaten, he didn't hold back; when flowing, he didn't go into over-drive. He'd changed his technique against the swinging ball - "I opened my stance a bit and tried to get my left shoulder to face the bowler" - and drove with assurance. Unlike in the first innings at Lord's, his feet were facing mid-off and not midwicket.
The last Indian opener to notch up six 50-plus scores in as many Tests was his Tamil Nadu colleague Sadagoppan Ramesh, a classic case of talent being lost. Ramesh too wasn't a classical opener but began his career, against a fired up Wasim Akram, as if he belonged at this level.
Ramesh was soon to join the long line of Tamil Nadu batsmen whose careers couldn't take off. Tamil Nadu has a batting history that combines underachievement and discrimination. While some maintain that their batsmen haven't seized their chances, others insists that they haven't been given too many opportunities. Ramesh, Hemang Badani and WV Raman provide recent instances of batting stars who have faded away but the list from the past is a long one, with Kris Srikkanth the only Tamilian thus far to have achieved notable success.
The likes of CD Gopinath, Kripal Singh, Bharat Reddy and TE Srinivasan had very short careers while others like Abdul Jabbar and Sreedharan Sharath, consistent performers at domestic level, didn't even make the grade. Karthik blew his first chance but he's done little wrong after his rebirth. He's reached a stage of the runway when he needs to take off and soar. There's nothing in his game to suggest that he won't.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo