After the IPL was postponed mid-way last year, Dinesh Karthik spent the summer preparing for his commentary stint in the English summer. His was a fresh voice that brought candour, humour, contemporary insights and a lot of preparation to commentary. Through all that, Karthik maintained what he really wanted was to represent India in the World Cups till 2023.
It was a seriously difficult task Karthik had assigned himself. Especially in India, where cricket commentary tends to be seen more as a retirement benefit than a profession. So it is not easy to be taken seriously when you are interviewing India players for TV, doing commentary, being complimented on your colourful shirts rather than your shots, and then saying you want to play for India.
So Karthik would have had to really stand out if he were to entertain any thoughts of a comeback. Six matches into his IPL, a strike rate of 210, an average of 197, two Player-of-the-Match awards to his name, Karthik has reiterated his ambition.
"I must admit I have a bigger goal," Karthik told host broadcaster Star Sports when receiving his Player-of-the-Match award, having rescued Royal Challengers Bangalore from 92 for 5 with a 34-ball 66. "I have been working really, really hard. Sometimes people don't believe it. But my aim is to do something special for the country. This is part of the journey. I have been doing everything I can to be part of that Indian team. This is one step in that direction."
It is this exact role that Karthik thought he could perform in international cricket when he spoke to ESPNcricinfo when in England. It is something Royal Challengers Bangalore have allowed him to do this season. It is a highly impactful role that involves playing only a certain number of deliveries.
In the three IPL seasons before this, for example, Karthik had averaged 37 and struck at 157.4 when he came in to the bat in the last six overs, but when he came in earlier his strike rate fell to 126 and his average to 17.6. In both his match-winning efforts this IPL - today, and against Rajasthan Royals - Karthik has found himself in sooner than the 14th over, but he has shown the willingness to bide his time and not panic even if it means a slow start before he does get to his ideal number of deliveries to face.
"I have been working really, really hard. Sometimes people don't believe it. But my aim is to do something special for the country."Dinesh Karthik
"The way DK is playing at the moment, I sound like a broken record but he is in the form of his life," Karthik's captain Faf du Plessis said at the post-match presentation. "What makes him even more (special) is he is so clear in his game plans. He is so calm and composed right through. Obviously very lucky to have him in our team at the moment."
"It's good to know people associate calmness with me," Karthik said when pointed to the calm he exudes in these chaotic situations. "Generally they say I am a little restless. I must admit positions and calmness come from preparation. When you know how you are going to go about an innings, it gives you a chance to be calm. Apart from that, trying to stay in the moment even though it sounds a little cliched. It is very important for my batting."
Part of preparation is also to repeatedly keep doing the job so that you have the experience of a variety of situations before you go into a marquee event, which is something India's young middle order didn't have in the last two World Cups. Karthik has given up red-ball cricket, got into specific fitness plans, and has been trying to repeat being in these situations again and again. He did so in domestic cricket and also went and played in the middle order in a club-level tournament 500 kilometres from Chennai.
Karthik was a prodigy when he burst onto the scene, and always a top-order batter. When he jumped from the pond into the river, he had to perform a variety of roles just to be able to represent India: from opening in difficult away Tests in England and South Africa to having to bat pretty much everywhere in the line-up in limited-overs cricket. Now, at the age of 36, Karthik offers India a highly specific role. And he is accumulating a serious body of work to seduce the decision-makers with.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo