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I see myself as a No. 4 or I could be needed to finish the innings: Karthik

After being nervous, KKR captain celebrated World Cup call-up with rosogollas

By Lokendra Pratap Sahi in Calcutta

  • Published 17.04.19, 3:48 AM
  • Updated 17.04.19, 3:48 AM
Dinesh Karthik in the city on Tuesday.
Dinesh Karthik in the city on Tuesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Dinesh Karthik, captain of the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and a member of India’s squad for the forthcoming World Cup, spoke to The Telegraph at some length on Tuesday afternoon, around 24 hours after getting the news.

Excerpts...

Q Congratulations... What were you doing between noon and 3.00 pm on Monday?

A I’d slept very late and, so, had got up only close to noon. After the usual chores, my wife (Dipika Pallikal) went for lunch with our CEO Venky Mysore... I confess I was very nervous, for my fate was being decided in the context of the upcoming World Cup. It had been fine till Sunday night, but after that, I’d been thinking of the selection committee meeting.

Q Who gave you the big news?

A Dipika got a call from her father. Naturally, I got to know right then.

Q How did you celebrate being picked for the second time for a World Cup, after 12 years?

A With rosogollas! In Calcutta, just had to be that.

Q Grateful to...

A Always thankful and grateful to those who stood by me in times when I was dropped from the India team. When you’re out, not many remember to either call or message you. I don’t forget those who still message and call.

Q Were you, at the start of this IPL, very conscious about possibly having to make handsome contributions to boost your chances of a World Cup recall?

A I’m a practical person and don’t believe in fretting over things I simply have no control over... In any case, being the KKR captain, I had so many other things to worry over. With so much on my plate I was fully occupied.

Q You didn’t get to play in the 2007 World Cup and India exited in Round I itself...

A The format did us in... Such was the format that one bad day could become fatal. We lost to Bangladesh and then had a difficult task against Sri Lanka, the eventual finalists... We’d done well in the lead-up to that World Cup, under Rahul Dravid’s leadership, so our early exit was terribly disappointing. We’ve moved on since... Won the next World Cup, in 2011, and made the semi-finals of the last one. This team has, over the years, grown... Head coach Ravi Shastri and our captain, Virat Kohli, must be complimented for keeping the core intact... Ten or 11 players have almost consistently played over the past two years or so.

Q After Australia and New Zealand, earlier this year, you weren’t selected for the ODIs against Australia at home. Must have left you quite disappointed...

A I was a little disappointed, yes, as the tour of New Zealand had been decent for me. What limited the disappointment was a call from MSK Prasad, the selection committee chairman.

Q What did MSK tell you?

A That the selectors’ plan had been to give me some matches in Australia and New Zealand and to give some matches to Rishabh Pant at home. That was fine with me. Having said that, it’s important for players to make the most of every opportunity. The effort has to be to make every match count. I’m perfectly aware of that.

Q You may only play in the World Cup if Mahendra Singh Dhoni is unfit. Is that, perhaps, deflating?

A My first preference, obviously, is to play as a batsman and, if MS isn’t available, then I come in as first aid. I become a small bandage for that match.

Q Waterproof one...

A (Laughs) Indeed... To go back to your previous question, the way I look at myself is: I’m a No.4 or I could be needed to finish the innings. If I get that opportunity, I’ll happily put my hand up and not let down those who have shown faith in me.

[According to MSK, Karthik and Kedar Jadhav are “options” for the critical No.4 position. Right now, Vijay Shankar looks the preferred choice.]

Q Comments on the India XV...

A We have a well-balanced squad, with all bases covered.

Q Won’t India be under plenty of pressure going into the World Cup?

A There would be... There should be... But I’m confident we’ll embrace it, not get weighed down... Use it to our advantage.

Q Ideal way to handle pressure?

A Pressure is all outwards, so you’re aware of it. However, it’s best to keep the processes simple.

Q The past 21 months or so have seen quite a few highs for you... An India comeback, getting the KKR captaincy, striking that last-ball six in Sri Lanka, returning to the Test squad after years... Your thoughts?

A I’ll go back even further, to 2016, when I began working with Abhishek Nayar. My outlook to the sport, the way I prepare and the way I actually play has changed after he came into my life. Obviously, a lot of people have helped me through my journey of almost 15 years of international cricket, but Abhishek has played the most critical part.

Q Is Nayar, who has played three ODIs, a mentor?

A Abhishek has helped my thought process, a few things technically too together with Apurva Desai, my batting coach... The thought process comes into play at three levels — before a match, during it, after the last ball has been bowled. The right processes need to be in place at the right time... You’ve asked if Abhishek is a mentor... Well, he’s a cricketer who achieved the best he could during his playing days and, in the process, learnt a lot about and from the people around him. That has helped Abhishek understand me better and help me towards my goals.

Q The same Desai who is Nepal’s batting coach?

A Yes. Apurva has played a couple of first-class matches for Gujarat.

Q It’s interesting that some not-too-well individuals come to play such a significant part in the progress of some big names...

A The best coaches have been the ones who’ve stayed in the background, yet done great work. Toni Nadal, for example.

Q In September, you’ll complete 15 years as an India cricketer. What has this long journey, packed with highs and lows, taught you?

A Oh... Let’s just say cricket has taught me everything I’ve learnt in life.

Q You’ve been picked for the World Cup and the franchise you captain is in a critical stage of the ongoing IPL. Surely, you’ll be thinking about the World Cup too...

A India’s first match in the World Cup (against South Africa) is on June 5, a good three weeks after the IPL final, so that’s the period when my focus would exclusively be on cricket’s premier tournament. Right now, I’m only thinking about my role as the leader of KKR and trying not to disappoint our passionate and always-loving fans... The support which KKR gets, even when we lose, is amazing. Just incredible. I, as the captain, must not let the fans down. Collectively, we cannot disappoint them.

Q Why has KKR’s campaign got derailed — from topping the table to No.4 as we speak? Has the bowling been an issue?

A Look, it’s a bit of both... The batting too needs to be better. Individuals like me need to stand up. I accept I haven’t played to the level I should have... As regards the bowling, we’ve given away some bad balls. If they get eliminated, we’ll be able to defend totals much better. Can we get better? We can, of course, and must... We haven’t been at our best at home, we’re capable of much better cricket.

[The Kings XI Punjab win over the Rajasthan Royals, at night, pushed KKR even further down the table, to No. 5.]

Q Isn’t there a case for promoting the gifted Shubman Gill up the order?

A I’ve been asked this a number of times... Look, we’ve made it clear to Shubman that, as and when opportunities arise, he will be sent up the order. Shubman was promoted to open when Chris Lynn was unwell. He grabbed that chance and got 65. Now, when Lynn was available, we had to give him back his position. He’s done a lot for us and we have to show faith... Sunil Narine, for his part, stays as the other opener. Question is whether we can bat Shubman at No.3 or No.4... Well, Robin Uthappa and Nitish Rana have won us matches from those positions and, again, it’s a matter of showing faith... India is obsessed with novelties, and even I like novelties, but I have to look at KKR as a whole and not just one bright kid on the block. I need to show faith in Shubman, yes, equally I have a responsibility to give Robin and Nitish enough opportunities. As the captain, I have to show faith... Is Shubman upset at going down the order? I don’t think so.

Q How do you rate Shubman?

A Shubman is there for the long haul, not only at KKR, but for India... I see him developing as a leader in our franchise.

Q You’ve admired Ricky Ponting, Dravid, Dhoni and Virat as captains... This is your second season as the KKR captain. What’s it like leading such a high-profile franchise?

A Age barriers get broken, one gets exposed to different cultures... That’s the beauty of the IPL. The fierce fan base of KKR is such a boost for me as the captain... Then, to have owners like Shah Rukh Khan, arguably the biggest superstar around in Indian cinema, and the very sweet Jay Mehta... I couldn’t have hoped for more support. I must also mention the role played by Venky... He’s probably the most balanced individual I’ve met in my life... I keep learning from Shah Rukh, from Jay and from Venky.

Q Win or lose, the smile hardly ever disappears... Don’t defeats make you feel low?

A I do feel low, do get stressed out, but if the team has given its best, then I’m not upset.

Q How would you sum up Andre Russell, who has grown into a phenomenon?

A (Smiles) The way you’ve described Russell — a phenomenon. He’s such a positive guy and great to have around the group. Russell’s a superstar and cricketers like him will take the sport, especially the T20 format, forward.

Q Just one more... Has Dipika brought about any change in your life?

A Dipika has brought a lot of balance in my life and, most important, allowed me to be the person I am. Dipika didn’t know much about cricket, which was good for me, but now she’s watching every IPL match!

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