Dinesh Karthik is still hoping to be recalled to the India team at age 36
Credit: ALESSANDRO ABBONIZIO
The Hundred may not be lacking in detractors, but in Dinesh Karthik, the England and Wales Cricket Board’s new pet project has one enthusiastic backer.
“The sky’s the limit,” Karthik declares, ahead of the launch of the competition next Wednesday. “I think it’s a very very entertaining concept and I genuinely wish and hope it’s reflected on the screen.”
The England & Wales Cricket Board’s wish is that the Hundred can do for the sport in England what the Indian Premier League has done for the game in India since its launch in 2008.
Karthik, who has been an ever-present in the league since its first season and will analyse the tournament and India’s subsequent five-Test series against England for Telegraph Sport, is well placed to judge whether it can.
“The IPL was a completely different kettle of fish – people from different countries playing together was a new concept. For this, the format is slightly different, we talk about balls and just 100, and you can bowl five at a time. There is a lot of different nuances to it.”
While Karthik has played 26 Test matches and 152 internationals, it was his work as a commentator on Sky during England’s limited-overs tour of India in March which endeared him to English supporters, who relished his combination of contemporary insights into the Indian national side and exquisite wardrobe of shirts.
“Lets just say I’ve got a few,” Karthik laughs. “I don’t make a massive effort in trying to look special – you would still see me wearing those shirts walking around the street. So I’m very happy that people like them.
“I love speaking about the boys because I know them. I understand them. I know what they’re trying to do a lot of the time so I’m able to give insight into what a person is trying at a certain point of time. I know so much about them because I’ve spent so much time with them. I want the viewer to know how hard it is to play the sport and the work that goes on behind the scenes, and also at times when they do something silly just say it as it is.”
Karthik was initially a reluctant commentator. “In India when you do commentary, it’s kind of considered that you’re retired from the game."
Karthik (R) is still a major figure in the IPL
Credit: ALEXANDER JOE
At 36, Karthik remains a crucial player in the IPL – he plays alongside Eoin Morgan for Kolkata Knight Riders – and retains strong hopes of winning a T20 recall for India as a finisher ahead for the T20 World Cups in October and 12 months after.
“I would love to be part of either one of them, it’s been an absolute burning desire for a long time. I have a couple of IPLs to showcase what I’m capable of in the middle order.”
To prepare for the resumption of the 2021 IPL season in September, Karthik has brought his cricket kit to England, and has found time to practise “once or twice a week”. He is one of the few cricketers to have played under both Eoin Morgan, his captain at Kolkata, and Virat Kohli. “They’re very different personalities. Virat is fierce, loyal, and he’s somebody who will set the standards, raise the bar. Morgs on the other hand is completely laid-back, very chilled, he’ll tell you what he wants out of you and he’ll do everything he can to get the best out of you and back you to the hilt.”
The nature of Kohli the leader is to expect his teammates to show the same voracious zeal for self-improvement. “He sets the bar, he sets the standard, he wants to be the best in the business, and he goes about every day trying to achieve that. All you need to do is watch, observe and learn.”
India’s last Test tour of England three years ago, when Karthik played the first two Tests, highlighted Kohli’s capacity to adapt and evolve his game. After a miserable 2014 tour of England, when he averaged only 13, Kohli returned to England with a markedly new technique – less square on, and batting outside his crease to negate swing movement – and averaged 59.
“He’d got runs and conquered all over the world," Karthik says. "The one series that he didn’t do well was the one in England in the Test matches. He came back to the same questions and he had answers for every one of them and that’s always a sign of a great player.”
It is a template that some of Kohli’s teammates might follow against England, though – as Karthik cautions – batting out of the crease can also be fraught with danger. “It’s a massive challenge to stand outside to somebody who’s bowling 85 or 90 miles an hour, you’re literally making it four or five miles quicker by standing outside the crease. So you’ve got to be ready to face 90 miles an hour against outswingers and inswingers – you better have skills to do that.”
India’s 2018 Test tour, which the visitors lost 4-1 despite being in dominant positions in two other Tests, is regarded as one of the side’s great missed opportunities in recent years. Now, after the start of the Hundred, this series looms as another chance for the side to further their claims to being the finest that India has ever produced.
“We’ve beaten Australia in Australia, which is obviously a very healthy sign for Indian cricket,” Karthik says. “The one series that they would like to come and win, especially with its rich history and heritage is England, and they have the team to do it.”