Dinesh Karthik and the Art of Self Correction
Imagine it is the 1940s. You are working at Bell Labs, one of the world’s premier research laboratories, an abode of inventions. Computers are at the beginning of their evolution, and programming still occurs on punched cards.
You work day and night in the week, and guess what? One error in the code and the program stops. Hard work down the drain. On the bright side, the machine detects and warns you that there is an error.
So as a brilliant scientist who has been a part of the Manhattan Project, what do you do? You work nights & weekends and develop an algorithm so that the machine can itself correct the errors, without the need for human intervention.
The year is 1950. You have published this paper and revolutionized computer science & information theory.
Your name is Hamming, Richard Hamming. (For more on Hamming codes, watch this beautiful video).
Now fast forward to the 2004. You are playing for the Indian national cricket team, one of the world’s premier cricketing nations, an abode of talent. Wicketkeeper batters are at the beginning of their evolution, and finishing limited over games is still at its infancy.
You work day and night on tours, and guess what? One poor series, and the selectors drop you. Hard work down the drain. On the bright side, selectors warn you that you have to play a different role in order to come back.
So as a budding young cricketer who has been a part of the 2004 U-19 World Cup, what do you do? You practice day in and day out, improve your technical faults, and comeback as a successful opener in swinging conditions to help India win a series in England in 2007.
A few months go by. Inconsistency creeps in. Dropped.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The year is 2021. You have claimed your fame to glory in that Nidahas Trophy final and revolutionized the role of a finisher.
Your name is Karthik, Dinesh Karthik.
Dinesh Karthik’s story is not in the career averages or amount of runs scored. Neither is it in number of comebacks. It is in the way the comebacks were constructed. Over the years, inconsistency has decreased, reassurance has increased, and in his own words, he has managed to stay ‘relevant.’
In simple terms, he has perfected the art of self-correction.
Dinesh Karthik’s Initialization
Algorithms have improved vastly since the Hamming code days. Yet, there are three main components of a self-correcting algorithm: Initialization, self-calibration, and error correction.
On the back of good domestic form, Dinesh Karthik was selected for the 2004 U-19 World Cup. This team included future Indian nationals in Robin Uthappa, Suresh Raina, Shikhar Dhawan, Ambati Rayudu, and RP Singh. Following a decent domestic and India A season, he found himself in the national reckoning alongside Parthiv Patel as India were trying to find a permanent replacement to makeshift keeper in Rahul Dravid.
On September 4, 2004, he made an immediate impact as a keeper in his ODI debut, inflicting a fabulous diving stumping to Michael Vaughan, being part of the famous Mohammad Kaif run-out, and taking a catch.
He would not bat in an ODI for another two years, but was picked for Tests against Australia, South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Zimbabwe. After having a top score of only 46 in his first six Tests, he finally made a mark scoring 93 in the second innings against Pakistan. However, a loss of form and Dhoni’s memorable 148 at #3 in that Pakistan ODI series meant Karthik was briefly dropped from the Test side and traveled only as a reserve keeper for the next year.
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When One Door Closes, Another Opens
One of the interesting traits of Karthik’s unusual career has been that when he is dropped in Tests, he finds a place in ODIs and vice versa. Later in his career, he was recalled in ODI & Test cricket based on his T20 form.
Case and point is 2006. Karthik enjoyed a good run in the limited overs although he was out of the Test side.
Did you know he was India’s first T20I player of the match winner? Against South Africa, he marshalled the chase with a 31* not take India home in a low scoring chase of 127. Soon after, an ODI player of the performance against West Indies meant that he found a place in both the 2007 ODI and T20I World Cups.
Although he would not get a game in the ODI World Cup, he played as a pure batter in the inaugural T20 World Cup with Dhoni behind the stumps. Low scores followed in the T20 World Cup, but he provided India with a bit of magic in the semi-final — a one handed diving catch to dismiss Graeme Smith.
Nasser Hussain on commentary summed up Dinesh Karthik’s entire career accurately in one sentence
“They say Dinesh Karthik is the two extremes — he drops dollies and he takes some spectacular catches.”
Here are some of his other catches: IPL 2019 running catch, IPL 2020 Ben Stokes flying catch.
Error Correction Part I: Karthik’s Golden Year in Test Cricket
The year 2007 was DK’s best time in Test cricket.
By this time, it was clear that he could not make the XI based on his keeping skills alone. The Fab 4’s presence meant that the middle order was crowded. However, Sehwag & Gambhir had been dropped, which meant there was a slight opening.
Enter Dinesh Karthik 2.0 — the opener. With Wasim Jaffer, he formed a brief yet formidable partnership.
In the third Test at Cape Town, the Jaffer-Karthik experiment paid dividend with a 153-opening partnership in the first innings. Karthik scored 63 as an opener and followed it up with 38* at #7.
In the tour of Bangladesh, he was given a permanent opening spot and returned with scores of 56, 22, and 129, his only Test century. Then, came India’s tour of England. Despite not scoring a hundred, scores of 60, 77, & 91 meant that he ended up as India’s highest Test scorer — 263 runs, 3 fifties, 518 balls faced to go along Jaffer’s 409 balls, which helped India successfully dent the new ball.
Once again, a commentator did justice to Karthik’s second phase of his career.
“It’s good story Dinesh Karthik. He began life as a dashing middle order batsman and wicketkeeper, and he has been transformed really into an opening batsman of substance.”
India historically won 1–0, India’s first victory on English soil in 21 years (a decade of horror shows the significance of that series victory).
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Too Many Bugs To Fix
Pushed back to the middle order after just 2 more Tests, he could only muster 157 runs in 11 innings with a best of 52 against Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and New Zealand. He would get another opportunity in Tests in 2010 before being dropped for another eight years.
On his come back against Afghanistan’s inaugural Test in 2018, he himself said in a press conference that in his earlier stint in Test cricket,
“I guess I wasn’t good enough before… I was not consistent enough.”
When he was out of favor in Tests in 2008, he did receive several opportunities in ODIs, scoring a few middling scores and featuring in India’s 2009 Champions Trophy squad. His best ODI innings of 79 runs came in 2010 with a 196-run partnership with Sachin Tendulkar during his historic double century.
14 innings later, with only 1 50+ score & 2 ducks, he was dropped — this time for three years.
Error Correction Part II: Dinesh Karthik, Journey To The Center Again
More competition, more errors, longer time to fix. Enter Dinesh Karthik 3.0 — the middle order batter.
It took a 3-year hiatus before Karthik stormed back to form in IPL 2013 as the #3 batter for Mumbai Indians, amassing 510 runs, only behind Rohit Sharma for MI. The innings where his highest score that season of 86 was possibly his best IPL innings (so far).
This performance earned him a ticket on the 2013 Champions Trophy and his best ‘List A’ moment came in the warm-up games, when he scored two back to back centuries, scoring 106* & 146* batting at #6. This tournament is fondly remembered for the beginning of the Shikhar Dhawan-Rohit Sharma opening partnership, which meant Karthik did not get much of a chance with 51* against West Indies his best knock.
A few months later, India failed to qualify for the Asia Cup finals and Karthik’s 21* vs Afghanistan would be his final innings for yet another 3 years.
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Self-Calibration feat Abhishek Nayar
Let us take a slight detour like his career took around 2014.
What is your favorite part about watching Dinesh Karthik? For me, it has always been his unconventional demeanor, starting from his batting routine. The moment he arrives at the crease, it is pure theater. Walking in with urgency, rolling the gloves around, dancing from side to side, taking guard, moving his helmet, meditating on the side. Excitement and apprehension at the same time.
As a keeper he is always chirping and speaking to the bowler, most famously with his partnership in KKR with Varun Chakravarthy or with R Ashwin in Team India.
But surely, so much energy must definitely be a burden. A volcano ready to erupt if the energy is not channeled properly.
A Nervous Bundle of Energy
In order to come back to the Indian national side, DK needed to recalibrate.
In a Breakfast With Champions interview with Gaurav Kapur, he described the time with Abhishek Nayar as a ‘mental bootcamp.’ 40-lap swimming, 45-minute uphill runs, sweeping the house, visualizing match scenarios, and extreme fitness training pushed DK out of his comfort zone. He reflected that
“When you push yourself out of your comfort zone when nobody is watching you and there is no glory attached to it and you just do it quietly because somewhere in life you want to achieve something, overall in time it does help you.”
This experience added an extra dimension to DK’s wide array of skills. He was always a good player of spin, but once he was in a good head space post-Nayar, he literally reinvented his batting — the sweeps, laps, reverse sweeps, and swivel across the crease came with increased frequency.
Errors Correction III — Consistency in Domestic Cricket
While his 2013 comeback was largely on the backs of the IPL, the 2017 comeback was due to the weight of runs in domestic trophy. He was among the runs in Ranji Trophy and has been consistent in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for the past five years.
At the peak of his batting powers, DK was hitting the ball as nicely as anybody at that time. Sanjay Manjrekar stated that at that time, Dinesh Karthik and Hardik Pandya were the only two Indian batters who could time the ball from ball one.
By this time, the pattern was set. Another Champions Trophy, yet another come back. Although he did not make the XI, in the next few matches after the trophy he scored 50*, 48, 37, 64* in consecutive games across ODIs & T20Is. It was a signal that he had added consistency to his arsenal.
Accuracy Improvement — Dinesh Karthik, The Finisher
After grinding it out in domestic cricket and becoming a much more calm and mature individual, it was time for Dinesh Karthik 4.0 to enter — Dinesh Karthik, the finisher.
From after the 2017 Champions to before the 2019 Cricket World Cup, DK slowly grew into the finisher role, remaining not-out 20 times out of the 35 ODIs or T20Is he played in.
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Nidahas Trophy & the Internet Superstar
After 14 years of sharpening his skills, beast mode was finally unlocked in the Nidahas Trophy in Sri Lanka.
Short & sweet contributions in every game: 13* (6), 2* (2), 39* (25), 2* (2), and 29* (8). He could not be dismissed throughout the series.
The final was a night to remember. With Mustafizur’s wicket maiden in the 18th and a struggling Vijay Shankar at the other end, hope was all but lost.
The Night of the Final
Then comes in Dinesh Karthik. Rubel Hossain steams in and attempts a yorker. DK sits back and hits it over a long on for six. There is still life left in the game. Then came a heave for four and another one for six! Colombo crowd is going wild.
Couple of balls later, Karthik moves around crease and scoops it over fine leg — 22 run over.
Final over, DK off strike, India need 12.
Wide, dot, 1,1, 4 (Shankar), Out. Five runs, one ball, one man. Over pitched delivery outside the off stump, DK times it with a full follow through. FLAT SIX. INDIA WIN! Captain Rohit Sharma said that DK was a bit upset being moved to #7, but he managed to channel the anger into good effect.
Given that India have not won a major ICC trophy since 2013, this memorable win stands at a high place for Indian fans. With 120 million and 211 million views for the 19th and 20th over respectively, this is easily the most watched cricket video (and possibly any sports video). Relive those moments below.
The Comeback Ends & The 2019 Cricket World Cup
He continued his Nidahas Trophy form in IPL 2018 with the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, scoring 498 runs at 49.80 with a strike rate of 147.77.
However selection across formats would come back to haunt him. He would make another comeback in Test cricket, but scores of 4, 0, 20, 1, 0 would be the end of his Test career. He would be in and out of the limited overs side, sometimes batting at #4 in Asia Cup ODIS, and sometimes almost finishing T20Is in New Zealand.
A score of 97* in IPL 2019 followed as he narrowly made the cut in the World Cup squad.
The Russian Roulette selection among Dinesh Karthik, Kedhar Jadhav, Manish Pandey, Rishabh Pant, Vijay Shankar, and most infamously, Ambati Rayudu probably hurt all five and India in the 2019 Cricket World Cup semi-final. Surprisingly promoted to №5, he tried to stem the fall of wickets before Jimmy Neesham’s brilliant catch ended his ODI career.
Is There Another Comeback On The Horizon?
He was one of the casualties of India’s post-tournament analysis, even dropped from the T20I side, where he had reasonable success.
Post-COVID, he had a tough time at the 2020 IPL, averaging only 14.08, his second worst season. Although he took KKR to a playoff spot in 2018, he would relieve captaincy duties to Eoin Morgan for the remainder of 2020 and 2021.
Since then, he has been vocal about fighting for a place in one of the T20 World Cups in the next two years purely as a finisher. Still the best finisher in India alongside Ravindra Jadeja & Hardik Pandya, the real question is, will we see DK 5.0?
Commentary Stint and The T-Shirt Collection
Even though we do not know his cricketing career will pan out, there is already a brief glimpse into the future.
He has become a social media celebrity with his Sky Sports stint providing apt analysis, providing daily weather updates, and most famously, showing the world his enviable T-shirt collection.
Here are his interviews with Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Jasprit Bumrah.
Karthik’s Legacy: Did he underachieve or overachieve?
Representing your nation in one international tournament is is an honor. In a topsy-turvy career, Karthik has somehow managed to be a part of the 2007 ODI World Cup, 2007 T20 World Cup, 2009 Champions Trophy, 2013 Champions Trophy, 2017 Champions Trophy, and the 2019 ODI World Cup. Sprinkle a couple of Asia Cups in there as well.
There are two school of thoughts on Dinesh Karthik’s career. Did he fulfill his potential? Maybe. Maybe not.
From a glass half empty perspective, one can observe that as a gifted batter and a giant in domestic cricket, he could not make most of his opportunities and cement a place in the Indian national team. On the other hand, he never got an extended run in one format at a time, constantly playing in different roles and formats. Hence, the fact that we are still talking about him after 17 years is still an achievement.
DK’s career consisted of memorable high peaks in a relatively plateau of a career. Opening in England, twin List A tons in Champions Trophy warm ups, winning an IPL Trophy with Mumbai Indians and T20I World Cup in 2007, stumpings and catches galore, and giving fans the Nidahas Trophy Final to cherish, he has made his mark.
In a press conference, Karthik himself says
“Even if I don’t get the opportunity to play sport at the highest level, I want to be content with the fact that I have given it everything I have had. Not only on the field, but off the field.”
The Road Less Traveled By
Robert Frost wrote in his famous poem The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by,And that has made all the difference.
When India needed a wicketkeeper, Dinesh Karthik was a wicketkeeper. India needed an overseas opener, in came DK, the opener. When they needed a #4, he became a #4. Finally, when all the spots were filled, he became a specialist finisher.
Although he was an anomaly in the previous era, current Indian wicketkeepers might keep an eye on his career very carefully. It is likely that not all of KL Rahul, Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson, Ishan Kishan, KS Bharat will get a constant run. So they should be prepared to be dropped and come back stronger, maybe with a different role.
Dinesh Karthik’s career might not have gone according to the original plan but his journey has been interesting nevertheless. He modified his approach, adapted to the circumstances, and always strived to improve his individual game.
What Can We Learn From Dinesh Karthik?
Numerous players were dropped at an early age and could never find a way to come back. Others could manage to comeback only briefly because they were pigeonholed to a single role. Karthik frequently took the road less traveled by, refined his old skills, while learning new ones at the go.
When he arrived in the international arena, he was a good player who had the potential to excel in three formats and don several roles. After years of repetitive self correction and recalibration, he has now developed his own unique niche — overs 16 to 20 as a T20 finisher, a position where he is the best. Power-hitters like Pollard, Russell, and Pandya might be better finishers in general but not many have the match awareness and can play the field as Karthik does in those end overs.
So what can we learn from Dinesh Karthik? Always be self-aware, prepare for the worst, focus on the process, wear nice shirts, be yourself, adapt to the surroundings, be ready for the opportunity, and provide energy to others around you.
I would love to finish this article with a bang, but what can I say — The finisher is not yet finished.
Test: 26 matches, 1025 runs, 25.00 average, best of 129, 100s/50s — 1/7, 57 catches, 6 stumpings
ODI: 94 matches, 1752 runs, 30.20 average, best of 79, 50s-9, 64 catches, 7 stumpings
T20I: 32 matches, 399 runs, 33.25 average, 143.52 SR, best of 48, 14 catches, 5 stumpings
T20: 321 matches, 6221 runs, 27.40 average, 133.55 SR, best of 97*, 193 catches, 61 stumpings
IPL & Dinesh Karthik’s Career In a Nutshell
- 2004: ODI, Test debuts
- 2004–05: Tests only
- 2006: T20I debut, ODIs only
- 2007: ODI World Cup, Test opener, T20I World Cup (winner), Syed Mushtaq Ali winners (captain)
- 2008: 1 T20I, 3 Tests only, Delhi Daredevils
- 2009–2010: Mostly ODIs, some T20Is, 1 Test, Delhi Daredevils
- 2011: Kings XI Punjab
- 2012: Mumbai Indians
- 2013: ODIs only, Champions Trophy winner, Mumbai Indians (winners)
- 2014: ODIs only, Delhi Daredevils
- 2015: Royal Challengers Bangalore
- 2016: Gujarat Lions
- 2017: Champions Trophy, ODIs, Gujarat Lions
- 2018: T20Is, Nidahas Trophy, Test recall, ODI #4 battle, Kolkata Knight Riders (captain)
- 2019: T20Is, ODIs, ODI World Cup, dropped, Kolkata Knight Riders (captain)
- 2020: Kolkata Knight Riders (captain, 7 matches)
- 2021: Syed Mushtaq Ali winners (captain), Kolkata Knight Riders
Although he has had good time with his IPL franchises, his wish is to end his career with CSK.