Top Performer - Murali Kartik October 24, 2007

Tweak of the week

Six wickets and a handy spell with the bat: Anand Vasu on Kartik's dream comeback

Kartik did the honours with both ball and bat © AFP

The best-ever figures for a left-arm spinner in one-day cricket, Man of the Match in a tight game against Australia, pressed into service in Twenty20 cricket - life's looking good for Murali Kartik at the moment. But it almost wasn't.

A thumb injury picked up while fielding in the nets left Kartik in severe pain the night before the seventh ODI. On the morning, despite the discomfort, he was keen to play, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who had originally backed Kartik in his recall, stood by him.

When he went out of the Indian team early last year through injury, Kartik believed he would come right back as soon as he was fit. Surgery done, rehabilitation complete, he began bowling in domestic cricket for Railways to prove his match fitness. Some wickets came, but playing on green pitches at the Karnail Singh Stadium, they weren't ever nearly enough. Then in the Challenger Series he was again economical and picked up wickets. But the call from the selectors never came.

Over time Kartik slowly began to think less about playing for India and more about excelling at what cricket he had in hand. A spectacular season for Middlesex followed, with over 50 championship wickets, where he was chiefly responsible for victories in four matches. Then, with the English season done, and a contract to return to Lord's the next season, Kartik came back to India and signed up with Neo Sports to commentate on the India-Australia series, as the Indian domestic season hadn't begun yet. Then, just when he least expected it, the call came, not from the BCCI but from a member of the media, informing him that he had been recalled to the Indian team from the fourth ODI onwards.

From that first game on, Kartik looked the part. He was unafraid to toss the ball up but didn't do it as predictably or as often as Ramesh Powar, the man he replaced. Kartik was clearly at the top of his game - form, confidence, and skill-wise. And it all came together in quite spectacular fashion in the Mumbai game.

Brad Hodge, who had struggled all series, was the first victim, lured into playing at one that dipped into his pads and spun across him, edging straight to slip. The next ball - probably the worst Kartik bowled in a spell of great control and rhythm - fetched him the biggest wicket of them all: Andrew Symonds half-swatted and half-drove at a long hop outside off and found Sachin Tendulkar at cover. The way Kartik took off in celebration it was clear the Indians felt they were in with a chance.

The first wicket had come with the loopy delivery, the second with a long hop, and as if to prove he had the variation, Kartik trapped Brad Haddin in front with an arm-ball. For his opposite and unorthodox number, India's tormentor Brad Hogg, Kartik brought Robin Uthappa at short leg into play. Hogg was unhappy with the decision, and stood his ground, but Brett Lee, who fell next, wasted no time standing around. Lee was drawn into a drive, first ball, and edged to gully, leaving Kartik on a hat-trick for the second time in the game, and with his first five-for in the bag. By the time he'd added a sixth, James Hopes, Australia were nine down for 177. Despite a bit of tail-wagging, they finished on 193.

Kartik looked the part. He was unafraid to toss the ball up but didn't do it as predictably or as often as Ramesh Powar, the man he replaced

Even with Australia's varied and potent attack, India should have coasted to victory. But the top order collapsed, and 51 were still needed when the eighth wicket fell. Again Kartik was pressed into service. A diligent lower-order batsman, he batted smartly, opening the face of the bat and running the ball into the gaps rather than trying to pull out the big shots. When the winning runs came, Kartik was facing, and though they were leg-byes, it was something he'd take. It was Kartik's day.

Hell, it had been Kartik's week. And though he headed back to Delhi the day after, he had barely got home before the call came for him to return to Mumbai to replace Piyush Chawla for the Twenty20 game. Kartik didn't get the wickets he wanted there, but he was the second most economical bowler on show, with 27 runs from his four overs.

What they said
"I think he was really excited, specially if you look at the stage when he was called back into the side. He needed to perform and was determined to do so. The way he bowled was brilliant. If a bowler keeps bowling in one place, you can set up an aggressive field. I think that was not the case in the previous matches."
Mahendra Singh Dhoni

What he said
"The way Ricky Ponting and Adam Gilchrist were batting, I thought, 'Are we in for another 300-plus score?' As it turned out, my first two overs were maidens and then a wicket. Suddenly my figures were two wickets for zero runs and I thought I might as well stop now as it was my best bowling figures. It was then that you felt that this was a day when you would have an influence on the game."
Kartik on his spell in the Mumbai ODI

Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo