Since Karthik's ouster from the T20I team, the Indian middle-order has one of the worst strike-rates among the 16 teams who are supposed to participate in the upcoming T20 World Cup.
Dinesh Karthik's international career for India has always been a curious case of study. He has been in and out of the team across formats in varied roles over the years but a permanent place in the team always eluded him due to his inconsistent performances.
However, since 2017, his India career finally seemed to be getting back on track when his newly developed power-hitting ability helped him in earning a place in the lower middle-order of India's T20I setup. He enjoyed a consistent run of matches for around two years since then, which included his Nidahas Trophy final heroics against Bangladesh too.
Overall, Karthik scored a total of 299 runs during this period at a sensational average and strike-rate of 49.83 and 157.36 respectively. He batted mostly between number five and seven during this timeframe as only three out of his 18 outings came higher up the order. Strangely, his performances were still not deemed worthy enough by the management and selectors to give him a permanent place in the T20I team.
The second T20I of India's home series against Australia in February 2019 was the last time Karthik featured in India's T20I line-up. India have gone on to play 22 matches without Karthik since then but none of the other players have been able to do justice to the middle-order as the Tamil Nadu batsman did.
Since Karthik's ouster from the T20I team, the Indian middle-order (positions 5 to 7) has one of the worst strike-rates among the 16 teams who are supposed to participate in the upcoming T20 World Cup. Only Sri Lanka, Ireland, Bangladesh, Oman and Papua New Guinea have a poorer middle-order strike-rate than India during this period.
Papua New Guinea
Table: Middle-order (Positions 5 to 7) batting strike-rates of teams in T20Is since 28 February 2019
Out of the six Indian players who have batted more than once between these positions and faced at least 20 deliveries during the aforementioned time period, only Manish Pandey has a strike-rate of over 140. Ravindra Jadeja is the next best, with his strike-rate just a shade above 130 while all other batsmen's strike-rates have been either in the low 120s or even lower still.
Table: Strike-rates of Indian batsmen between positions 5 and 7 in T20Is since 28 February 2019
So, it is clearly visible how none of the batsmen have been able to match Karthik's scoring ability. Although Pandey has scored at a healthy strike-rate of 140.81, that is still a lot lower than Karthik's corresponding metric of 161.68 between these positions.
This is why India need to recall Karthik into their T20 setup. In fact, his success hasn't stayed limited to international T20s only. He has been equally successful in the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well during the last few seasons.
Since the 2016 edition of the IPL, only MS Dhoni, Andre Russell and Kieron Pollard have scored more runs than Karthik between number 5 and 7. Karthik's strike-rate of 140.55 is the second-best among these names, with Russell being the best with a figure of 190.09. His batting average of 37.18 is also marginally lower than that of Russell's 37.50, which is once again the best among these four players.
However, the real metric that differentiates Karthik from other players in the IPL during this period is probably his average runs per innings (RpI).
Karthik has scored 26.39 runs on average while batting in the lower middle-order since IPL 2016 and that is the second-best figure among Indian players who have batted in at least 25 innings during this period. Combine that with his superb strike-rate and you get a batsman who can not only score at a brisk rate but is also capable of anchoring the innings while doing so.
The only Indian player who has matched this ability during these years is MS Dhoni. He has a marginally better RpI than Karthik (28.56) and scores at an almost similar strike-rate of 135.62 as well.
But, considering that Karthik is four years younger than Dhoni, who is 38 years old, and there are two T20 World Cups coming up in the span of the next one year, the present Kolkata Knight Riders skipper appears to be the best option available for India's lower middle-order.
Moreover, the absence of Hardik Pandya due to injury in the last one year has shown how other batsmen have failed to live up to the demands of this role. Karthik seems to be the only player who can do justice to this role alongside Hardik. Moreover, the experience he has of playing in crunch situations will only make India's lower middle-order stronger.
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Ishara S. Kodikara
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