The independent voice of cricket

India v South Africa 2022/23

Dinesh Karthik is India’s very first death-over T20I specialist

Sarah Waris by Sarah Waris
@swaris16 5 minute read

At 37, Dinesh Karthik continues to demonstrate how T20 is not merely a format for specialists, but a format that demands specialists for every phase of a team’s innings, writes Sarah Waris.

From opening the batting to No.7, Karthik has appeared at every position in T20 cricket. Many batters revel at the top, with time to get their eye in and score big; Karthik’s is a different story. His strike rate increases as he bats lower, making him a player India have often desired but not always had.


The above table covers numbers from all T20 matches, but Karthik’s figures follow a similar pattern in T20Is as well: the lower he bats in the order, the quicker he scores. His best T20I strike rate of 164 is at No.7, while he has struck at 100 while opening batting and at 88 at No.3. The higher strike rates down the order, where he comes out almost invariably with no time to get his eye in, indicates his ability to strike the ball without getting set – an ability he attributes to ‘scenario practices’ in the nets.

Aware of his skills, the Indian team management has assigned Karthik a specific role. Instead of fixing a spot for him in the batting order, they have almost always ensured he walks out in the death overs, irrespective of the number of wickets in hand. This year, Karthik has faced 160 balls in T20Is, 94 of which (59 percent) have come in the last four overs of the Indian innings. It is not a coincidence but a well-thought-out plan that Rohit Sharma first executed during the 2018 Nidahas Trophy final.

Leading India in the absence of Virat Kohli, Rohit held back Karthik after India slid to 98-4 in the 14th over, needing 167 to beat Bangladesh. He promoted Vijay Shankar, whose struggles intensified the scrutiny on Rohit. Batting for the first time in international cricket, Shankar scored 17 in 19 balls, leaving India on the verge of a defeat. Manish Pandey’s struggles at the other end merely added the pressure on India.

Pandey departed for a 27-ball 28, leaving India to score 34 in two overs. In walked Karthik, and the rest is history. His eight-ball 29 not out – culminating in a last-ball six – helped India clinch a nail-biter. In the post-match press conference, Rohit admitted to Karthik being unhappy at being pushed down the order: “When I got out, I went and sat in the dugout and Dinesh was quite upset that he didn’t bat at No.6. I told him, ‘I want you to bat and finish off the game for us, because whatever skill you have, it will be required in the last three or four overs.’ That is the only reason he was not batting at No.6 in the 13th over when I got out. He was upset with that.”

After that night, Karthik batted eight more times before getting dropped. He struck at over 200 in three of these, but without a definite role, the other five innings made news.

At the same time, Kolkata Knight Riders failed to identify his strength. Between 2018 and 2021, he faced 476 balls in the first 15 overs of the team innings, striking at 116. He even came out in the third over, at No.3, against Mumbai Indians in 2020. Karthik, then captain of the franchise, revealed that it had been coach Brendon McCullum’s idea. It did not work: Karthik made 30 without hitting a single six.

When he batted in the last four overs for the team, he struck at 175. The stark contrast between his strike rates upfront and at the death also signifies how Kolkata Knight Riders failed to utilise him efficiently.

That has not been the case since his return to the national side this year, with the Indian camp assigning him the specific task of batting in the death overs. They have given him a consistent run at the expense of young Rishabh Pant, a rare left-hander in the Indian set-up. And Karthik has flourished.

This year, Karthik averages 22.70 in the format with a strike rate of 142, numbers that seem underwhelming at first glance. However, a low batting average is often part of a high-risk role, and India have come to terms with the odd failure. But when Karthik gets going, there is no stopping him, and those are the days when India’s trust in him reaps rich rewards.

In 2022, Karthik has batted with a strike rate of less than 130 in 11 out of 18 innings, and has hit at 140 or above six times. Of these, four have come at a strike rate exceeding 200. In the third T20I against South Africa in June, he walked out to bat on a tricky surface and scored 55 in 27 balls – his first fifty in the format – out of a total of 169-6. South Africa were bowled out for 87. No one made more runs or struck at a better rate than Karthik’s 204.

In the first T20I against West Indies, Karthik smashed 41* in 19 balls from No.7 to help India post 190-6 after they were reduced to 127-5. His next significant innings was only two balls long: a six and a four he faced in the last over of an eight-overs-a-side clash to take India over the line against Australia.

On Sunday night, Karthik walked out after India had a solid platform, at 209-3. But he ensured India reached closer to 240, making 17 off the seven balls he faced. Batting in the 19th over, he took no time to get going, smashing a four and two sixes off Kagiso Rabada. India eventually won by 16 runs, and the importance of his small but important contribution was highlighted again.

To fully analyse how integral Karthik is, one has to move away from conventional numbers like the batting average. Instead, one needs to dig deep and focus on his entry points and the bowlers he faces. With most teams reserving their best bowlers for the end, Karthik has to face the death-over specialists, and has to cut loose without time to prepare.

Having a defined role and practising accordingly has enabled Karthik to establish a role in a strong line-up in T20, a format that was once perceived as one for the young. If he can help India pull off a few improbable wins in the T20 World Cup, the camp should be lauded as much as him.

Have Your Say

Become a Wisden member

  • Exclusive offers and competitions
  • Money-can’t-buy experiences
  • Join the Wisden community
  • Sign up for free
Latest magazine

Get the magazine

12 Issues for just £39.99