World Cup: Meet Dinesh Karthik, a player you can never write off!

Coming from a family of sports lovers — mainly cricket — it was natural for the young Dinesh Karthik to take to the sport like fish to water.

Published : May 24, 2019 12:39 IST

In his formative days, Dinesh Karthik began as a leg-spinner before switching to wicketkeeping.
In his formative days, Dinesh Karthik began as a leg-spinner before switching to wicketkeeping.

In his formative days, Dinesh Karthik began as a leg-spinner before switching to wicketkeeping.

For Dinesh Karthik, it was competition that made him mentally tough. The constant need to stay ahead of his game, made him tougher. Overcoming odds and disappointments made him the toughest. In all, for Karthik, cricket turned him into a ‘complete man.’

Coming from a family of sport lovers — mainly cricket — it was natural for the young Karthik to take to the sport like fish to water.

“We come from a family where education was given high importance,” says Krishna Kumar, Karthik’s father. “We were seven brothers and my father didn’t let us pursue our passion. Studies came first and sports a distant second. I didn’t want the same to happen to Karthik. He loved the game and I let him pursue it,” reveals Kumar.

Kumar played professional cricket after his admission into college and nearly three decades of club cricket in all. He took Karthik along and slowly taught him the nuances of cricket.

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The way to progress

Graduating from the ranks of school cricket is the best way to progress in the game and Karthik’s exposure to competitive cricket started when he was eight years old — playing for Chettinad Vidyashram in an U-10 inter-school cricket tournament organised by Don Bosco School.

Though Chettinad lost, Karthik was named the most promising player, a special recognition in his career.

A natural athlete, Karthik used to bowl leg spin, but was also interested in wicket-keeping. As days progressed, he found his calling in wicket-keeping and there was no looking back.

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Greener pastures

The search for greener pastures made Kumar go to Kuwait and Karthik spent four years in the Gulf country.

“He loved the sport so much that I decided to be his coach. There was a lot of county cricket being telecast at that time and I used to get a lot of inputs by watching it on TV. I passed on the same to Karthik,” Kumar says.

Karthik is an explosive hitter in the one-day format.

“In Kuwait, there is a lot of love for cricket. There were three groups of teams — those following India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka — and there was a healthy competition between them. Karthik was a part of one of the teams and when he was 10 years old, he played U-19 and U-16 age-group cricket.”

While his advent into age-group cricket was early, it also had its perils. “He always used to get run out because he was so young and by the time he completed one the other batsmen used to complete two,” Kumar says.

“Kuwait is a desert country. Vast open lands were readily available and I used to erect nets and make him play. I used to carry two or three buckets of balls and bowl to Karthik. Soon, I started taking some local players with me and practice used to be fun,” Kumar says. As time passed, Karthik’s confidence grew.

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Back to India

It was now clear that Karthik had a future in the game. “It was at that point, when he was about 12 and a half years old, I decided that moving to India and Madras (Chennai) was the correct decision,” Kumar says.

And one of the net sessions at the YMCA ground in Nandanam changed Karthik’s fortunes. “During practise, he caught veteran Tamil Nadu player C. S. Kumar’s eye. While saying that Karthik’s understanding of the game was top-notch, he suggested that we enrol him in Don Bosco School as it was one of the best schools that encouraged cricket,” Kumar explains.

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Along with S. Vasudeva Das, his classmate, Karthik forged an excellent left-right combination. The duo went on to forge many match-winning partnerships and they were the best players in the school.

Karthik soon joined a fifth division team in the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association league and gradually climbed the ladder.

Turning point

While Karthik was in the second division in the TNCA league, he met his then-mentor, the late Gautham, a promising talent in Tamil Nadu cricket. Gautham suggested that Karthik should go for coaching at the MRF Pace Foundation, under Dennis Lillee and T. A. Sekhar.

Karthik used to diligently go to the Pace Foundation nets, largely unnoticed. With the then-Indian players like T. Kumaran, S. Sriram, Ashish Kapoor, Mohammad Kaif and Zaheer Khan practising regularly, Karthik used to confine himself to the nets adjacent to the main practice wickets.

“None of the players knew I was his father. I just used to sit on the sidelines and watch him practice. At times, they would take note of Karthik’s sweet timing with the bat and I used to feel happy when they spoke among themselves about his approach being right,” Kumar says.

Karthik with his parents and wife Dipika Pallikal. Karthik’s father, Krishna Kumar, laid the foundation for Karthik to blossom.

The turning point wasn’t far away. As Karthik was thinking of signing for Mambalam Mosquitoes, a TNCA first division team, an opening came in the form of an accident when MRF’s wicket-keeper had to withdraw from the league. “That was the opening we were waiting for. Gautam and others suggested that Karthik should sign up for such a big team. That was also the first time the pace foundation coaches spoke to me. I would say, it was the turning point in Karthik’s career,” Kumar says.

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Karthik soon found himself playing alongside big names. In his first match in the TNCA first division, Karthik was facing the then-India player Tinu Yohanan, who was playing for India Pistons.

When Vikram Kumar, Tamil Nadu’s U-19 wicket-keeper was injured, it was Karthik who replaced him. “At the age of 16, Karthik was drafted into the Tamil Nadu U-19 side. He played at the U-19 level for almost three years and this was instrumental in shaping his game for the highest level,” Kumar reminisced.

Maturing as a cricketer

“When you start playing against better opponents you get better, so Dinesh started playing better,” Kumar says.

As a child, Kumar says, Karthik was a hyperactive kid. Shadow practices became a norm during his free time and competitive games increased. “After an entire day of cricket, he used to be very tired after coming home and sleep immediately — at around 7.30 p.m. He was not a fussy child and cricket was the only thing in his mind,” Kumar says.

As he grew in stature in the game, the competition was also growing. Karthik suddenly found himself locking horns with Parthiv Patel for an U-19 Indian team slot and eventually lost to Parthiv after the trials. “He was disappointed but he let it pass in an instant. Since, he had played so many matches at many levels, he was mature to handle disappointments,” Kumar says.

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Current India team trainer Shanker Basu was also one of the people in awe of Karthik’s talent. “Dinesh never used to talk a lot, he just used to pack and leave after the match was over. His focus was always on ‘what to do next’.

“During an U-19 camp in Bangalore, there was a Test match happening in which Harbhajan (Singh) and (Anil) Kumble were playing. They bowled to Karthik in the nets and were immediately impressed. These things gave confidence to Karthik that he belonged to the highest level.

“Karthik is a humble guy, never would want to hurt anybody,” he adds.

Abhishek Nayar and Dipika Pallikal

After his parents, the two people who did the most for him were wife Dipika Pallikal, champion squash player, and Mumbai player Abhishek Nayar. While Nayar moulded Karthik into a complete cricketer with a positive mindset, Dipika completed the circle in his life.

When Karthik found the going tough — it was the pressure of keeping up to the mark in the highest level in the game, according to his father — he found solace in Nayar’s training. Nayar provided a small room, an untidy one at that with a dingy bathroom, for Karthik. It was Karthik’s responsibility to keep the place clean and hurdles like these moulded him into a better person and made him mentally strong.

Meditation and visualisation techniques became regular apart from two practice sessions and all of them helped Karthik gain confidence immensely.

His fortunes soon changed.

Abhishek Nayar has helped Karthik immensely to iron out the little faults.

Dipika says it was his character — patient and good — that drew her close to Karthik. “I think he’s someone who is extremely patient with everything in his life. Be it his cricket or our relationship or anything for that matter. One thing I have always been in awe of is the way he always sees the good in people,” Dipika adds.

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At home, the husband-wife duo hardly speaks about sports. “If there’s something that’s really bothering him then he talks about it otherwise, that is it,” she says.

Dipika lauded Karthik for trying to strike a work-life balance. “It’s hard. I don’t think many people understand the sacrifice that goes into being a cricketer. Especially because I’m an athlete as well , we hardly get time with each other. But we both know that sacrifices are important to achieve what we both want and that keeps us going,” she adds.

Simple pleasures of life

Kumar and Dipika say Karthik loves the simple pleasures of life.

“On a day off, shopping or a movie or a simple meal with family is what he craves for,” Kumar says.

“He loves fish curry, especially that is prepared by his mother and loves to eat raw mangoes” he adds.

Dipika concurs with her father-in-law and adds, “We’re very family oriented so we love spending time with family. So usually we just sit at home, relax and have a meal together on our days off.”

Parental superstition

Just like other cricketers and their families, Karthik’s folks too have superstitions. “Any parent would be lying if they had said they don’t have superstitions. We have our sentiments — like always sitting on one chair when he is playing. We keep chanting a certain prayer or talk to him before he goes for a game.

“These are things that evolve over a period of time. If he does well, we repeat the same else we change or stop. Every cricketing parent goes through the same,” Kumar says.

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