It was in 2006 that a young Dinesh Karthik won 'Player of the Match' award for his cheeky 30-odd in India's first-ever T20 International.
Sixteen years hence, Karthik, nearing 37, with 330 shortest format matches under his belt, is showing signs of being another eternal comeback man of Indian cricket, trying to do justice to the phenomenal talent that he is blessed with.
“I made a conscious effort to do justice to myself. Felt I could have done better in the last few years,” Karthik, whose 44 off 23 balls, took RCB to victory over Rajasthan Royals in an IPL 2022 game on Tuesday.
Karthik, who has always been in demand during every edition of IPL, hasn't been selected for India after their heart-breaking semi-final loss against New Zealand in the 2019 ODI World Cup.
His form for KKR nose-dived a bit in the past two years and 18 years after his India debut, Karthik knows very well that an 8-ball-29 in a Nidahas Trophy can't be his singular legacy when he calls it quits.
So how has it been different and the Tamil Nadu stumper, who literally dashed Ravichandran Ashwin's dreams of T20 comeback, hammering him into submission, said that he has changed his training methods.
“The way I have trained has been different. I was telling myself I am not done yet. I have a goal and I want to achieve something,” said Karthik at the post-match presentation ceremony. When he came in, RCB needed 12 runs per over.
Karthik launched into his statemate Ashwin with one boundary behind square, followed by six over long-on and a rocket-like shot over mid-off and finally added insult to injury with a reverse sweep.
“We needed 12 runs an over, so you need to figure out what to do. Stay calm, know your game and who you can take on." A career strike rate of 134 and average of 27.58 doesn't do justice to the kind of ability he has had.
He knows that there aren't too many years of cricket left in him and he is trying to maximise his utility. He doesn't play red-ball cricket anymore and knows it's T20 which will remain his calling during the business end of his career.
Legendary Sunil Gavaskar during commentary said that Karthik had explained his mindset and visualization of various T20 strokes during one of their quarantine periods in Belgrade before they went for their commentary stint at the World Test Championship last year.
In Karthik's own words, he tries simulating the situations. “I have made an effort to play white-ball cricket, practice matches and scenarios. Those are the hours you put in when no one sees. The real work is done in the lead-up, which is what I'll give credit to.”
His penchant for finding the right gaps at the right time makes him a dangerous operator in this format. He shuffles and creates angles while forcing the bowler to err in his line and length. “You have to premeditate in T20, but if it's not there, you have to have the ability to change the shot.”