Dinesh Karthik Interview: The 36-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman from Chennai is on his way to England to give commentary on the World Test Championship final as a ‘pundit’ for Sky Sports, something that he first experienced and “enjoyed” during the India-England Tests earlier this year, followed by The Hundred.
Dinesh Karthik Interview Excerpts
You are on your way to England as a television commentator. How excited are you to be calling on the game?
Definitely, I am very excited. It is something that is very new to me. I’m looking forward to this stint. I am really happy to be a part of this new journey.
You would have, rather, preferred to tour England as a part of the Virat Kohli squad…
Yes. In an ideal world, obviously, I would have loved to be a part of that squad but as things stand, I am happy to be going there and speaking about the matches. I am extremely excited to be doing this as well.
You toured England last time and played in two of the Tests. Could you have revived your Test career then?
Yes, I toured England the last time India played Tests there. It was a very interesting and hard-fought series. I tried my best but it did not happen the way I envisioned. But, that is part and parcel of life.
Just the fact that I came back and played after a long time, I was so happy. Things could have gone much better than they did, but that is the beauty of this sport and I have no regrets at all.
You debuted in Tests and ODIs before MS Dhoni. Would you blame partly yourself for not grabbing the opportunity and cementing your place in the Indian side?
Everybody plays the sport trying to do their best and do whatever they can. I was no different.
Sometimes it happened, sometimes it didn’t. As I said, when I look back at my journey, I am very proud of whatever I have done over a period of time.
When Dhoni was keeping wickets, you were in the team as a batsman. You opened too. Was it tough?
When you play international cricket, it is bound to be tough. If you are expecting anything else, you are in the wrong place.
The key is, knowing that it is tough, to find ways to enjoy it and that is the beauty of playing at the international level.
You are always thrown into questions and have to find answers. That’s what every player tries to do. The opening was a part of the journey and the short while that it lasted, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
How do you see the youngsters of today compared to when you were coming into the side as a 19-year-old?
The youngsters of today are far more mature in many ways. Before playing for the country, they have already rubbed shoulders with the best while playing in the IPL.
That gives them a lot more confidence in getting into the international arena. That’s why today’s youngsters play very fearlessly, which did not happen earlier.
How pleasing was it to see Washington Sundar do well in Tests?
I was extremely happy for him. I have seen him all the way from the start to where he is now.
He has a phenomenal career ahead of him and I am happy seeing him don the whites. The work that he puts in behind the scenes is second to none.
How do you look at the wicketkeeping talent in the country?
A. There are a lot of wicketkeepers who are doing well. Because of the advent of IPL, we see a lot of people who play as batsmen donning their gloves so that they could contribute in another direction as well for whichever franchise they play.
That has produced a lot of wicketkeepers at the T20 level for sure.
How has the dimension of wicketkeeping changed? They are called all-rounders.
The dimension of wicketkeeping has changed a lot. In today’s world, there is hardly any wicketkeeper-batsman.
Most of them are batsmen-wicketkeepers. Captains want the wicketkeepers to contribute a lot with the bat. In the earlier days, there were a lot of wicketkeeper-batsmen.
That has changed drastically in the last couple of decades or so with the arrival of Adam Gilchrist and MS Dhoni, people who have contributed a lot with the bat. A pure wicketkeeper, per se, has taken a backseat.
It also allows – and the Indian team is a prime example with Rishabh Pant batting at No. 6 – them an option to play an extra bowler. I can see a lot of international teams play a lot of batsmen-wicketkeepers.
On that England tour last time, Rishabh Pant debuted for India. How have you seen him grow? He has displaced Wriddhiman Saha as the No. 1 wicketkeeper.
Rishabh Pant is a great case of what confidence can do to you. The fact that he has done so well in the IPL and for India ‘A’, you can see the confidence coming off every time he plays for the country.
Now he has grown and become one of those front-runners in the batting where you can see a lot of the international teams talking about him saying they fear him a lot because he could change the game in a session and that is a great place for India to be.
Wriddhiman Saha is a phenomenal wicketkeeper. To me, he is one of the best ’keepers in the world. It’s just that Pant has come a long way with his batting and contributed so much that has made Saha sit outside the team.
How long do you like to continue playing?
I will continue playing as long as I am fit. I can see myself playing for another three-four years. Touchwood, if my fitness is as it is and if I continue to contribute with the bat, I see no reason as to why I shouldn’t be playing.
These days, there are so many fitness tests and the rate at which they have the fitness tests, they remove the age out of the equation.
What they want to see is not the age but how fit you are. If you can get through the fitness tests, it means you are ready to play for the country. My aim is to play for the country in the T20 World Cups.
There are back-to-back T20 World Cups, this year and the next year, and I am doing everything I can to be a part of that.
I know I have done really well in the past and even when I got dropped from the team after the World Cup, I thought I had done phenomenally well for India in T20s up till then, but because the World Cup did not go well, I got chucked out of the T20 as well.
But given an opportunity, especially in the middle order, I know India definitely needs a finisher there.
I know we have Hardik (Pandya) and (Ravindra) Jadeja there. That’s something that I have kept my focus on, to be a pure middle-order batsman.
I feel that is a specialised slot, the ability to win games and set up good totals to help the team win. That’s something that I have focussed on and I have done well over a period of time and am backing myself to do it over and over again.
And, I know that if I do that, there will be a place in the Indian team.
Talking about your goal of playing again for the country, are you eyeing on the limited-overs tour of Sri Lanka that is on the cards in the coming weeks?
Hundred percent. I would love to. Being a middle-order batsman in T20s, you cannot put numbers like how the top three could put up in terms of volumes.
What you need to see is the impact you play, the strike rates at which you play, whether you are able to change the course of the game. That is what I have been able to do over a period of time.
Are you confident of doing what Dhoni did, the finisher’s role?
Definitely, that is the role I have been working on. I have been doing it for KKR and also for TN. I am very confident in that role.
You can get a lot of runs batting in the top-order when there is Power Play and the fields are up and you can go over the top. The skill comes in for a middle-order batsman, especially after 14 overs, what is he going to do.
That’s what I have tried to focus on and tried to help teams achieve that. To be fair, I have done with a fair degree of success and that is why I am confident that if given the opportunity, I will make a difference for the country in the T20 format.
Many hold this against you – DK was given enough opportunities but did not do enough to grab those opportunities. How do you deal with this?
As I said, in a journey that has spanned over 15-16 years, just to be a part of the Indian team over a period of time and playing all the three formats, there are so many reasons for me to be happy about myself and the efforts I have put in.
I have always told myself that only I know the amount of effort I put in and whatever I did over a period of time to get those opportunities. I did everything I could, sometimes these things work, some other times they don’t.
What is important is when you lie down on your bed, you should get good sleep knowing that you have given it everything and I can proudly say I have definitely done that.
How do you look back at your career? You seem to be around for ages and people who have debuted after you have retired.
Haha! I am very happy with how my career has taken shape. I have always been someone who has been very satisfied and have been very grateful to have played this sport, because in India, for the billion-plus population that has been over a period of time, only 302 have played (Tests) for the country, and to be a part of that is something really special.
I am really, really happy. There are so many things to be happy about playing this sport. At the start of my career, all I wanted to do was play one game for my country. To have played 150-plus overall, I am very happy. It has been a terrific journey for me, wearing the India blues.
People usually take up commentary after their playing days. But you are still an active player…
If you see foreign countries, especially football and NBA, current players come and talk about the sport when they are injured or when their team is not playing.
The perception in India is that if you go to be an expert commentator, their playing career is finished. You take football, current players sit and talk in the studio, talk about other teams and give their expert opinions.
In NBA and tennis, this is a norm. Why should it be any different in cricket?