June 14, 2014

'India have missed out on a match-winner'

VVS Laxman
Murali Kartik was a complete bowler for every format and should have ended up with more than 300 Test wickets

One of my favourite stories about Murali Kartik concerns his name. My wife would always address him as Murali. His response, delivered in that soft yet firm tone, would be: "Murali is my father's name. My name is Kartik."

Kartik has this knack of getting close to certain people. I do not really know when and how we became such close friends. I guess a lot has to do with the common interests we share. Both of us are spiritual and religious. Both are devotees of Satya Sai Baba; Kartik's father, in fact, does voluntary service at the Satya Sai Baba Trust in Puttaparthi. Over the years, from the time he made his Test debut in 2000, we have shared a good rapport.

One big reason for me to open up to him and like him was that Kartik is a genuine person. He speaks his mind, not only on the cricket field but off it also. When that happens, you feel comfortable with a person. This feeling was mutual, as evidenced by this lovely tribute from him when I retired.

Over the years, as we started getting closer, I saw that Kartik was a very likeable character who would do anything for his friends. He was one of the few people I would call for his opinion on various issues. He is a knowledgeable guy - not only about cricket - and that is why I always pick his brains to get inputs or a different perspective.

Considering our relationship extends to over 15 years now, it is inevitable that we have shared several ups and downs. I remember the time in 2002-03 he was dropped for the ODI series in New Zealand. I cajoled him and asked him not to get disappointed. Soon afterwards, I found myself not picked for the 2003 World Cup!

Both of us were obviously disappointed when we found ourselves on the India A tour to the Caribbean. I was the captain and we had a nightmare of a series. I told him I was never going to cajole him any more, since it was landing me in trouble too!

As a player, my first impression of Kartik was how talented and skilful he was. This was in 1997, when we played against each other in successive tournaments - the Karnataka State Cricket Association tournament in Bangalore and then the Buchi Babu Memorial tournament in Chennai, with Kartik playing for India Cements and me representing Indian Airlines.

His most outstanding characteristic is his confidence. From the first day I saw him till his last match his body language and his never-say-die attitude never changed. That is a great quality to have for any cricketer to succeed at any level. It becomes much more important for a spinner because the way the modern game has progressed, it is getting tougher for a slow bowler to leave his mark. There are not many orthodox spinners left in the game - people who are willing to flight the ball, deceive the batsmen in the air, don't mind getting hit for a boundary, are always on the prowl, looking for a wicket. Kartik always possessed those characteristics and never compromised on them.

He is an intelligent person, a quality he brought to his cricket too. He is a good student of cricket and read the game, batsmen and situations well. He is a complete bowler for every level and all formats.

His primary strength is his skill. In my book, a spinner is dangerous when he is not defensive but always attacking and eyeing wickets. Kartik always had the desire to take wickets. And even if there were occasions when the batsman was on top, Kartik would never admit it. I never saw him bowl a bad spell. He might not have got wickets but he always had control; that and his variations allowed him to stay on top.

He is a good student of cricket and read the game, batsmen and situations well. He is a complete bowler for every level and all formats

In my eyes, the best spell Kartik bowled came during the Irani Cup against Mumbai in 2000, when he grabbed nine wickets in the second innings to win us the match. I was leading Rest of India and allowed Kartik to bowl unchanged on the fourth morning from the Tata End. It was unfortunate that he did not become the fifth bowler in Indian first-class cricket to achieve the feat of taking ten wickets in an innings. Kartik was always a wicket-taking bowler, someone a captain could rely on, and to me he was always a match-winner.

While Kartik had the potential to become a match-winner, unfortunately during his heyday he underwent a lot of disappointments. In 2007 he had a very good ODI series against Australia in India. He finished as the second-best Indian bowler, including taking the Man-of-the-Match award in the final match of the series, in Mumbai. On the back of such a good performance he was looking forward to travel to Australia to play in CB Series. To his utter disappointment he was not even picked in the squad. I know for a fact that he was devastated by that experience.

On the outside Kartik can come across as a bold and aggressive man. But he is very sensitive. And so it is just brilliant the way he has handled various tough experiences throughout his career. He always put up a brave face.

Kartik has endured a lot, all through his career. Until you experience it, you cannot understand how tough it is to always carry on fighting. On the inside you are disappointed, you are frustrated, the pain is deep. And you think: Why does it always happen to me? I thought Kartik might occasionally feel bad, angry at the injustice; but he never showed it. Only to a select few did he reveal he could have been treated better. He never let the disappointments affect his game and the way he carried himself on the field. And that was the hallmark of his career.

Kartik is a philosophical man. He learned through his experience that whatever happens does so for a reason. And he always took the positives - at least he played for India, played for Railways, played in county cricket, had the respect of his team-mates and opponents.

One has to also understand that Kartik played for a team like Railways in the Indian domestic circuit where the facilities have always been sparse. But though he did not get his due at the international level, he always went back to domestic or county cricket without ever letting the disappointment discourage him from performing.

He took a lot of pride in performance, no matter who he was playing for, or whether it was a competitive match or just a net session. He never let the batsman play with freedom.

Once he realised that his chances of playing again for India had evaporated, he turned his focus to giving back what he had learned to his Railways team-mates. He fought for their rights with the authorities. He always had a soft corner for the team; last year, he took up the captaincy just so he could mentor the youngsters.

I have relied a lot on Kartik to get inputs on domestic players when picking players at Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL. It was he who suggested that I pick Karn Sharma and Amit Paunikar.

Despite his disappointments, Kartik has remained selfless and has been open to sharing with youngsters his inputs and insights. Recently, Akshar Patel excelled during Kings XI Punjab's run to their maiden IPL final. I am certain Kartik must have played some role in Patel doing well. It did not matter to Kartik that he was sitting on the bench despite being the more experienced spinner.

When he called me earlier this week to tell me that his time was up, it was a sad moment. But I can understand his decision. Kartik was unfortunate that he played when Anil Kumble and Bhajji [Harbhajan Singh] were in their prime. But maybe when Anil retired, Kartik could have been given more opportunities. He is a bowler who should have taken more than 300 Test wickets. Indian cricket has missed out on a match-winner.

As told to Nagraj Gollapudi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2014, 21:32 GMT

    Indian cricket being held with vestiges from past-Murali was unlucky when reputations were used instead of form in picking the best spinners...Karthik should have gotten 100 wickets in test atleast....

  • Ashok on June 17, 2014, 19:56 GMT

    It is sad to see no other Cricketer apart from Laxman came out with tributes to Murali on his retirement. Kartik was so profuse in his tributes to VVS Laxman both as a friend & as a Cricketer. Laxman did his tributes not as a pay back but from the bottom of his heart. Murali played for Railways in Ranji & was born in Chennai. He also had a match winning performance in Tests vs. the Aussies. Most professionals - be it athletes, Cricketers or Engineers, Doctors or academic professionals, always get some farewell tributes on their retirement. I have observed this in every walk of life. India needs to improve in this area too - especially the Indian Cricketers. Sad reflection of changing times. I as a Cricket Fan appreciated your Cricketing skills which were grossly under utilised by India. I am sure your skills will be put to good use in alternate profession because you have another 50 years of life ahead of you. I put you in class of Great Kunderan when it came to appreciation!

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 19:04 GMT

    .Salute you Karthik. Wish he had got atleast 1/4th of the chance Ishanth got

  • Kaushik on June 16, 2014, 15:13 GMT

    a really nice tribute to a really fine bowler. without a doubt, kartik was the second-best spinner in india in the 2000s after kumble, and was treated badly. every time he turned in a match-winning performance against australia, dropped. however, thanks to the author's humility, one thing that isn't mentioned is how well laxman captained kartik when the two played together. for all his other virtues, ganguly was never a good captain to left-arm spinners; but i saw laxman set fields for kartik in the 2002 challenger trophy, in which kartik was a huge success (only to be ignored for india) - and it was genius. some of the most attacking captaincy to a spinner i have ever seen, even though it was a limited overs series. dhoni wouldn't give his spinners such support in a test match! i hope for a future when sanjay bangar is india coach and kartik a selector. these two railways stalwarts have been ambassadors to the game while languishing in domestic cricket. hats off, sir!

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 12:42 GMT

    The article shows the depth of friendship between two gentlemen cricketers. To me , VVS was better than Sachin and Dravid for the sheer fluidity of his batting style and to do wonders in the company of tailenders. Murali Kartik was a very crafty bowler. On the whole, let us wish Kartik all the very best in his future endeavours.

  • VISWANATHAN on June 16, 2014, 9:30 GMT

    Tough a good spinner, he lacked consistency in taking wickets which is a hallmark of any bowler; learnt from this article that he is a good human, good luck to him for his media role or coaching role.

  • Baba on June 16, 2014, 8:47 GMT

    Quite a few left arm spinners like Dilip Doshi, Padmakar Shivalkar and Rajinder Goel played very few/hardly played/never played for India despite being brilliant spinners. The reason being lack of space, since the team could accommodate only a couple of spinners. I guess Murali Kartik unfortunately met with similar fate. 20/20 format is mainly assisting Leg Spinners or Defensive Left Arm Spinners and Murali Kartik again doesn't fit in those categories and was finding himself in & out of the matches. I am sure he has lots to contribute as a commentator & writer, since he is intelligent and articulate.

  • Dummy4 on June 16, 2014, 4:30 GMT

    All the best Karthik for you retried life. Most of the talented guys never perform at the highest level because of the pressure. The pressure to keep their place and if they don't get a supportive captain they are always under pressure to keep their place. This will ruin their career which happened not only Kathik also for Ramesh, Sujith Somasundar and Vijay Bharadwaj.

  • Rocky on June 15, 2014, 18:15 GMT

    Murali was an average spinners nuthing else

  • Ajay on June 15, 2014, 13:23 GMT

    He seems a genuine and definitely an intelligent person. Like he himself said - so many people would give up a lot - just to be in his place for a day. It could be a tad unfair at this point to evaluate his career or compare him with others or indulge in a post-mortem.

    So thanks to Kartik for all he has done for the country and the game of cricket. With such abilities and intellect I am definitely sure we will see him around enriching the game for more time to come.

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