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Karthik gets a fresh grip on familiar goals

After a stop-start performance in the early stages of the domestic season, Dinesh Karthik has pitched in with important innings for Tamil Nadu, and despite all the talk of his return to international cricket, his focus for now is the Ranji Trophy

Arun Venugopal
Dinesh Karthik struck a rapid century while following-on, Tamil Nadu v Madhya Pradesh, Ranji Trophy, Group A, Chennai, 4th day, December 24, 2014

Dinesh Karthik is aware there is a slot up for grabs with MS Dhoni's Test retirement but also knows he will be competing with "two or three guys" vying for the same thing  •  Sivaraman Kitta

'Pause' isn't a word one would normally associate with Dinesh Karthik. Either behind the stumps or in front of them, his fidgety quirks are in keeping with the 'hyperactive wicketkeeper' stereotype.
It seems a touch odd, therefore, when his responses arrive not in rapid bursts, but with measured elaboration after lengthy pauses. Karthik is at ease speaking his mind, like when he admits to not setting definite targets because it doesn't help him perform better, or "help you as a human being."
"I figured it a year ago. I go into a shell after one failure. I expect too much from myself," he told ESPNcricinfo. "It works for some people, eggs them on, but doesn't work for me."
What works for him is the goal of constant improvement and it was with the aim of playing swing-bowling better that he sought the advice of Pravin Amre prior to the domestic season. Karthik joined the list of cricketers like Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa and Naman Ojha who have benefited from Amre's advice, although the wicketkeeper-batsman did struggle with a few teething issues.
"I went to Amre and worked on playing swing-bowling better basically," he said. "I can confidently say I have been batting better against swing bowling. I changed my grip a little bit. I now have a more pronounced top hand, and my bat-swing is more in sync with the line of the ball.
"I had a pretty bad wrist injury when I changed my grip, couldn't touch my bat for two months in the off season. It's hard to make changes when you have been accustomed to a technique from childhood. I learnt that the hard way. I bagged a pair in the Duleep Trophy, and my World Cup prospects were affected, too. But that's a price I had to pay.
"I am happy with how I am playing at the moment, although I am not exactly where I want to be. I could do better."
With 753 runs, Karthik is the eighth-highest scorer in this Ranji Trophy season, and he will have the opportunity to add to the tally in the final against Karnataka. One of his three centuries this season was a match-saving 129 after Tamil Nadu were asked to follow on by Madhya Pradesh.
"As many times as I have been asked, I really don't have an answer. It's a good question, but I think I will be able to answer it the day I get into the team and settle down."
Dinesh Karthik on his stints in the Indian team
Alongside the five fifty-plus scores, he was dismissed in the 30s and 40s on four occasions but is not too affected by that: "I have not had a good few decisions going my way when I have been batting well on 30s and 40s. But that's part and parcel of the game."
A struggle to convert starts into something more substantial is also perhaps a microcosm of how his international career has panned out. Karthik, who has played 71 ODIs and 23 Tests since his debut in 2004, played his last international match in March 2014. Karthik concedes he is unable to put a finger on why he has been in and out of the team.
"As many times as I have been asked, I really don't have an answer," he said. "It's a good question, but I think I will be able to answer it the day I get into the team and settle down."
Criticised, on occasions, for not taking wicket-keeping as seriously as batting, Karthik says he has stopped giving importance to what people say about it: "Keeping is something you go on reputation. I have made a conscious attempt to work on it. I have worked a lot with [former India wicketkeeper] Sameer Dighe and [Tamil Nadu assistant coach] M Sanjay."
Karthik is aware that a slot is up for grabs following MS Dhoni's retirement from Test cricket, but knows there are "two or three guys vying for the same thing". "There is a thought if I do well a chance is probably there. Once you have been on the circuit for too long, it is better you just play the game and not think too much about it."
He has, however, been a big draw at the Indian Premier League. For the second successive year, he was the second-highest earner after Royal Challengers Bangalore snapped him up for Rs 10.5 crore [approx $1.75 million] in this year's auction. He finds it hard to explain the phenomenon.
"Franchises need a keeper-batsman, and I have been lucky enough to be picked at a good price. The beauty about the whole thing is it's something I am not in control of," he said. "It's a tough question for me to answer.
"My best year was with Mumbai Indians [in 2013] because we won the IPL then. I also miss working with Ricky Ponting, who is one of my favourites. My year with Kings XI Punjab was great because I enjoyed playing under Adam Gilchrist."
For Karthik, though, the focus right now is on winning the Ranji Trophy, something Tamil Nadu haven't managed since 1987-88. "Abhi [Abhinav Mukund] has captained brilliantly. A lot of credit should also go to the selectors and the team management. After the Bengal game, we were really dejected, but there was no panic. Things went uphill after that. [M] Vijay came back and it was a big plus. Lot of credit to the coach for giving Abhinav whatever we wanted."

Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo