By his own admission Dinesh Karthik is a restless person. Just like on the field he wants to be moving or talking. We met at the Kolkata Knight Riders team hotel in Kolkata on April 22 to talk about his captaincy of the franchise and his batting in the IPL. The previous afternoon he had hit a fluent and swift 43 to shore up Knight Riders against Kings XI Punjab, but his team lost. When he went back to his room, he watched AB de Villiers zip past Delhi Daredevils without breaking a sweat. The next day he talked about how he can only dream of playing like de Villiers. Still, he is now more assured and happy about doing things the DK way: batting, leading, and just being a busybody.
What is the best thing about being in charge of a franchise that is successful?
Responsibility. And with responsibility comes a lot of happiness if you look in the right direction: the joy of seeing a lot of young guys perform well, the joy of allowing the senior players to be their own selves. The owners and the coaches have given me absolute freedom and I've thoroughly enjoyed being part of this team till now, touch wood.
Were you surprised when the offer came?
From the team they had picked, I wasn't too surprised. Venky Mysore [Kolkata Knight Riders CEO] called me up and said that they were looking at me leading the team. I knew I would be a leader of some sort, because I am a senior pro. Maybe a vice-captain or a captain - I was expecting that at some stage. There were not many senior India players in the squad so I was expecting it.
How did you react?
I was all guns blazing. I was like, "Yes, wow!"Because it is a great opportunity for me, where I stand in my life, it is something important and [something] I would love to do.
What things were you clear about wanting when you took up the captaincy?
We had a good, long discussion, me and Venky. More than me bringing a certain way of what and how I do things, I thought it was important to hear him out in terms of what the culture at Knight Riders is. Gautam Gambhir led the franchise for seven years and he left a big legacy.
*Stats up to May 2, 2018
There have been a few successful wicketkeeper-captains in the IPL. MS Dhoni and Adam Gilchrist are the prominent ones. What advantage do wicketkeeper-captains have?
We stand at a vantage point in the ground. We have a good view of everything - what's the batsman doing, what are the kind of fields that can be set? Off the field, it depends on the type of person you are.
Are you someone who likes forming a leadership group?
It is important to have leadership groups, but at the end of the day I need to be taking the call because I'm responsible for the team and I should know exactly what I'm doing and I believe in that.
A lot of times while being a keeper, it is very hard to run up to the bowler frequently. So I have told Robin [Uthappa, vice-captain] the kind of things I want to achieve in the death overs and he speaks to the bowler every time it's necessary. Initially I was trying to run to the bowler myself, but we were way behind the over rate and it wasn't helping. So giving responsibility to someone who you feel can share the responsibility.
"One of my strengths as a person is, I'm very easy-going. You know me by now, I'm a restless, fidgety kind of guy who is always laughing, playing and monkeying around"
Mentoring youngsters is a key element in franchise-based tournaments. We have heard you have reached out to youngsters like Shubman Gill and Shivam Mavi, the India Under-19 players, and helped them settle into the roles assigned to them. How did you go about that?
One of my strengths as a person is, I'm very easy-going. You know me by now, I'm a restless, fidgety kind of guy who is always laughing, playing and monkeying around. It is the same with the young guys - I kind of like being friends with them. At least I would like to think I give an image where they don't feel, "Oh god, he is a senior."
Youngsters like Gill and Mavi have a free-flowing spirit. It is important for me to show them the path while letting them take the right decisions. I feel they have a beautiful journey ahead of them and [it shouldn't be a case of them] trying to do things that I tell them, what I feel is better. You give them the knowledge and insight, but always allow them to take the decision. I believe in empowering people rather than advising them and forcing them in a direction which I feel is right. It is important to throw the right questions at them and they find the right answers.
Did you see AB de Villiers bat against Delhi Daredevils? What goes through your mind when you watch a performance like that?
I did watch that innings. I genuinely wish I play some day like him, but I guess it won't happen in this new, short life of mine.
Yet earlier the same afternoon, you yourself played a fluent, strokeful innings that helped your team win.
It was a typical good Dinesh Karthik innings: hitting gaps, running hard, pushing people.
Look, I've got to be happy with how I am as a cricketer. I would love to do special things and keep doing them consistently. What is important is to win matches and I should try to find a way to win matches the Dinesh Karthik way. I have always admired these great players, but I know what I am capable of and I will stick to that.
Still, you are batting with more freedom, appear more relaxed, expressing yourself more, both in the IPL and when you played for India recently.
Expression comes from confidence. I'm able to go and play freely because of the confidence I am trying to gain after every game. It is important that if I do that consistently, touch wood, then obviously things start falling in place. AB de Villiers does what he does because he is confident of whatever he is doing, he has done it over and over and over again, so he knows exactly how to play, how to set a bowler up, what are the kind of shots he could play. It comes with basically doing well. You then just repeat your skills.
By your own admission you are a restless person, who has a lot of tics and routines while batting or keeping. You usually come in to bat in high-pressure situations. Do you think you need to feel anxious to perform?
Most days I am nervous as it is. The days when I'm not, I try and keep my adrenaline up by doing some running etc. The adrenaline is very important for me when I go in to bat. That makes me tick, makes me think better. When your energy is up and running, you have a much better chance of doing well.
You have played for various franchises. Which is the best position in the batting order for you, in the mind space you are in now?
I just fit in anywhere. Why restrict myself when I feel versatility is one of my strengths. Why restrict myself to a certain number? I will try and focus on what I can do on a given day in a certain situation rather than putting a number to my batting and saying I'm comfortable here. I would much rather go out and use my brains a bit, assess the situation, and try and do the best I can with my batting.Fourteen fifties from 140-odd innings in IPLs, but no century. You are a batsman easily capable of scoring one. You must think about it, for sure?
Everybody wants to hit a century. [However] to hit a century you have to bat in the top three - that is the best chance of getting to the landmark. I don't know a lot of No. 4s who have got a century. In most teams I have played in, people don't want me to bat in the top three, they want me to finish an innings, create impetus in the middle. Those are the kind of roles they are looking at. Yes, I would love to score a century. And I do have the skill to score a century. I believe in that. More important than that is the fact that I can win matches, and that is the skill that I want to master. If you ask me: do you want me to score a century or be a middle-order finisher - middle-order finisher every day of the week.The year 2013 was your best in terms of runs (510), but your strike rate was hovering around the early 120s till 2016. Over the last two seasons you have increased it to the late 130s, and you average around 35. That is a significant improvement. Did you consciously work on your power game, or has it just been that you are hitting the ball much better?
It is just the way the game has changed. Before, 140 was a winning total. [Now] coaches want you to go in and smack it. Go in and express yourself and play shots with good intent throughout the innings. Does it sound like a very clichéd answer?Look, 190 is the new 140. Today, even 190 is not safe. Before, getting 40 or 42 in the first six overs was the norm. The other day Mumbai [Indians] were 0 for 2 and then they were 60 by the end of the Powerplay. The wickets are better to bat on, there is a lot more power in the game.You don't use so much muscle, though?
I am not as powerful as [Andre] Russell. As I said, I have to find the DK way of doing things, which is run hard, find the gaps, run hard, beat the field.And like you said, the game has evolved, bowlers have become clever and have been plugging the points batsmen pick to hit at death. What is the Karthik way of finishing?
Four overs for 40 [at the death] was unthinkable a few years ago. Now four overs 40 is unthinkable for a bowler to restrict. There is no Karthik's way or Dhoni's way, it is just about finishing the game. It is just about knowing your game, what are the shots you can play, how are the shots you can get executed on that day, on that wicket. Those are the questions you need to answer.And how do you keep a clear mind like you did to win India the Nidahas Trophy recently?
Yes, that was clarity. That can be achieved by trying to get into the zone consistently, for which you ought to prepare and practise.How much of your captaincy is by instinct?
Ninety-five per cent. There is not much planning you can do. It is a very fluid game. If you want to produce results on the field, the way you practise is going to give you the answers on the field.