India have been looking for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s replacement for a while now, without knowing they had him in their ranks all along. Playing an innings that would have done any batsman in the world proud, Dinesh Karthik took India to a scintillating win against Bangladesh in the Nidahas Trophy, clinching the deal with a carved six over cover off the last ball, with five still needed.
When Karthik came to the crease the game was as good as gone, India needing 34 from two overs after Mustafizur Rahman delivered gold in the 18th over. Vijay Shankar, batting for the first time in international cricket, and slightly inexplicably prompted in a clutch situation, played and missed at four balls angled away from him, scrambled a leg-bye off the fifth and watched in dismay as the pressure caused Manish Pandey to go for the big shot and hole out to long-on.
Karthik waited on the first ball of the 19th over, bowled by Rubel Hossain, and timed a sweetly struck six over long on, off a low full toss. The second ball was in the slot and Karthik fetched it from outside off, smacking it wide of long-on, one bounce and into the advertising hoardings. Under pressure, Rubel slipped the third ball down leg and Karthik flicked it effortlessly into the stands over square-leg. The final ball of the over was full and straight, but Karthik skipped nimbled across to the off side, lap sweeping for four down to fine-leg.
A wicket-maiden in the 18th over had been followed by a 22-run bonanza thanks to Karthik, but the game was still in Bangladesh’s hands, with 12 needed and Karthik off strike.
Shankar missed the first two balls, the first of which was a wide down leg side, and when he squeezed the fourth ball down to the third-man fence, it was imperative to get Karthik back on strike. Shankar launched into the fifth ball, but could not clear the ropes, long-on fumbling the ball for Mehedi Hasan to catch the ricochet from long off. Critically, the man who seemingly had no nerves, was on strike.
With five needed off the final ball, Soumya Sarkar was on the cusp of his Chetan Sharma moment — never before in Twenty20 internationals had a batsman hit the final ball for six to win a game, with five or more runs needed.
Karthik took his time, re-checking his guard with the umpire and then pulling away to square-leg to sit on his haunches and catch his breath. As Sarkar ran in to bowl, Karthik was relaxed in his stance, head perfectly still, bat poised to react to the line and length of the ball. When it finally came towards him, Karthik produced the cricketing definition of batting excellence, seeing the ball as early as possible and playing it as late as possible, the bat describing a free-flowing arc, sending the ball sailing over the cover fence.
When India played their first Twenty20 International, in Johannesburg, 12 years ago, Karthik was Man of the Match for his 28-ball 31. On the day, his innings read -- 6, 4, 6, 0, 2, 4, 1, 6 --29 off only eight balls that put everything else in the shade.
For the record, Bangladesh posted 166 for 8 on the back of 77 from Sabbir Rahman, and India’s reply began strongly with Rohit making 56 at the top of the order. But these are mere footnotes, as Karthik wrote his name into the history books.