Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Ravindra Jadeja swipes his bat over the stumps in frustration after carving Alzarri Joseph straight to short third. India are 138 for 6 in 16 overs on a grippy, two-paced pitch in Tarouba. Jason Holder and Co are regularly taking pace off and keeping the ball away from the batters' reach. West Indies are sensing that they are onto something, with a packed crowd rallying around them.
Dinesh Karthik, however, crashes West Indies' party, in the first international game at the Brian Lara Stadium, with an unbeaten 19-ball 41 that powers India up to 190 for 6. On a tricky surface, where wickets fell in clusters, Karthik is the only Indian batter to strike at over 150.
After expertly closing out innings for Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL, and for India in the T20Is against South Africa at home, Karthik whipped up another finishing act, this time in the Caribbean, strengthening his case for the inclusion in India's XI at the T20 World Cup, which begins in October later this year in Australia.
Since the start of IPL 2022, Karthik has struck at 210.91 at the death overs in T20 cricket. Among those who have played at least ten innings during this period, only Tim David (226.72) and Jimmy Neesham (220.45) have a better strike rate.
Sure, Karthik has trained the house down for the finisher's role, but the conditions and circumstances were stacked against him on Friday. He was on 17 off 12 balls at one stage; there were no proper batting options for India beyond him, and the ball kept stopping at the batters. However, there would be no stopping Karthik.
When Holder missed a yorker, Karthik shuffled across and threw everything into a swipe that sailed over midwicket for six. Holder then went around the stumps and angled a length ball across him but Karthik stretched out like Mister Fantastic from the Marvel Universe and scythed it over covers, where there was no protection in the deep, for four. To add to West Indies' hurt, they could have just four fielders outside the 30-yard circle due to an in-match penalty for their slow over rate.
Karthik hurt them even further in the last over by hitting the ball over the infield for two more fours and another six. In that final over, Karthik deployed a higher backlift, pointing towards first slip, AB de Villiers-style to generate extra power against the change-ups of Obed McCoy.
At the other end, Ashwin sat back and gushed: "Nallarukku [This is good], DK!" Back in the day, Ashwin was among those who used to travel to Chepauk just to watch Karthik bat. Karthik is now at the peak of his powers and has so much role clarity and confidence that he can succeed as a finisher irrespective of conditions.
"I've been enjoying it [the finisher's role] a lot; it's a very interesting role," Karthik said at the post-match presentation after bagging the Player-of-the-Match award. "It's not something you can be consistent with, but on the days that you do well, you can make an impact for the team. You need the backing of the captain and the coach that I've got in abundance, so that really helps.
"What is important is assessing the wicket. On any given day in the last four-five overs when you bat, there are a lot of things you need to be aware of - the shape of the ball, the softness of the ball, [the nature of] the wicket, what kind of shots you can play, and then you need to decide. That comes with a little bit of practice and understanding the various aspects of batting."
Karthik has always been big on practice and game time. Ahead of IPL 2022, he had travelled to Theni, located about 500km from Chennai, to play a T20 tournament for his club India Cements. Ahead of the Caribbean tour, when Karthik needed some game time, he travelled to Coimbatore to play a T20 game for his TNPL side Tiruppur Tamizhans on a sluggish surface.
He continues to put all of that preparation into excellent use and prove people wrong, at 37. Speaking on the BeerBiceps podcast, even Karthik's close confidant Shanker Basu, who is also Royal Challengers' fitness coach, revealed that he had ruled out an international comeback from Karthik.
Karthik has made such a strong comeback that India's team management is now open to swapping the position of other batters to let him do his thing at the death. He even captained the Indians in two warm-up T20s in England, and after his latest act, he is now a step closer to nailing down the finisher's spot for the upcoming T20 World Cup.