Express News Service
CHENNAI: Where will India be without Dinesh Karthik? Leave aside what unfolded at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium on Friday against South Africa.
Four months down the line, they have a T20 World Cup lined up in Australia and given their top-order concerns, Karthik’s maiden international T20 fifty — 15 years after his debut — was another proof of what he could give this side in the lower middle -order.
On a pitch where batters struggled to adjust to the two-paced nature, and shot-making was difficult, Karthik was a class apart.
Asked to bat first for the fourth time in a row this series, India were 56/3 at the end of their halfway mark with Hardik Pandya and Rishabh Pant finding it hard to get any sort of momentum.
When the latter departed in the 13th over, bringing Karthik to the middle, India were 81/4.
Pandya, who had smoked Tabraiz Shamsi for successive sixes in the 12th over, — the first over since the fifth to witness two boundaries — was finally finding a rhythm. But, it was still a pitch where momentum was not guaranteed.
In that context, Karthik – the designated finisher in the team – had all but few balls to get used to the pitch and not only bail out India, but put up a total that could be defended.
If finding big hits against spinners was challenging, it was equally difficult against pacers, who were using the variations.
On such pitches, you need the X-factor to get runs, especially ones who could play around with the field and bring 360 degrees into play.
If India had Pandya for firepower, in the other end they had Karthik, who can be unpredictable with his shots by bringing 360 degrees into the equation.
The 16th over delivered by Anrich Nortje broke the shackles. He walked down the pitch to convert a length ball into a full one and get a boundary over mid-off.
He then used the depth of the crease to hit a fierce cut for a boundary off the third before Pandya rounded off the over with another boundary.
Off Keshav Maharaj’s next, Karthik converted a full ball into a full toss by bringing out his sweep.
A straight drive came up next before he brought out a reverse-scoop to hit four over the third-man boundary.
Then came Dwaine Pretorius, Proteas designated death bowler, who is known to bowl yorkers.
Karthik sensed what was coming and swept the first ball for four before a misfield fetched another boundary off the next.
Sensing the momentum swinging India’s way, Pretorius went for a slower one, only for Karthik to be ready for it and hit it over square leg for a third successive boundary. 15,13 and 16 runs flowed in the 16,17 and 18th overs.
That Pandya, who is known to be explosive in the slog overs, was largely kept quite, showed how it was not easy to hit the big ones unless you brought your T20 imagination into play.
There are a few such batters in this regard and as Karthik brought up his fifty with a huge six in the final over, India were well and truly up.
And with 169/6 on board, the bowlers led by Avesh Khan (4-18) did their job to level the series 2-2 going into the final T20I in Bengaluru.