Kolkata Knight Riders have just played five games in the 2020 IPL and captain Dinesh Karthik already appears to carry the entire world on his shoulders.
Where is the Karthik who stole the Nidahas T20 tri-series trophy from Bangladesh right under their nose in 2018, scoring an eight-ball 29* out of nowhere, including a last-ball six as the team needed five off the Soumya Sarkar delivery in Colombo?
Where is the Karthik who learnt the modern-day power-hitting quite early into its arrival — yes, the ability to hit a six to any part of the ground without any fuss?
Playing for the Delhi franchise in early years of the league, he showed such power-packed form that many couldn’t help but compare him with AB de Villiers.
Where is that Karthik now?
Kolkata Knight Riders followers must be in a state of stupor with those questions from the break of dawn to the end of the day even though they have three wins in five games as of now.
So what is ailing Karthik? Why has he cut such a sorry figure as a batsman and captain in the IPL so far? Scores of 30(23b), 0(3b), 1(3b), 6(8b) and 12(11b) tell the whole sad tale.
The answer lies in the simple fact that at present he is biting off more than he can chew. The weight of captaincy is weighing him down. In total contrast to MS Dhoni, it is captaincy that is bringing Karthik down as a batsman.
His batting positions haven't helped him either. So far Karthik has batted once each at No.3, No.4, No.7 and twice at No.5.
In the first four games, Karthik appeared to play the innings builder's role. That was a big mistake. Karthik doesn't have that kind of temperament, to be honest. Mumbai Indians' Suryakumar Yadav showed how it's done a few days ago against Rajasthan Royals.
Karthik looks confused in that role — appears he just doesn't know when to take singles & twos and when to go for the big shots, and it slows him down, and the team suffers especially if they are chasing a big total like they did against Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals.
And the fact that Eoin Morgan, who led England to the World Cup trophy last year, is in the same team is making it worse for Karthik. With every batting failure of his, there is a strong, audible whisper from fans as to who should actually be captaining KKR. And he is definitely not oblivious to all this.
Going forward, KKR should not leave him more than 30-35 balls. His batting position in the 10-run win over Chennai Super Kings was just fine. Yes, he couldn't contribute much — again! — but this is where KKR are most likely to see the fearlessness and lucidity in Karthik. With a single-track mind, he can do a lot of damage to the opposition. He ain't a multi-tasker and he knows it well but now that he has taken the plunge, he just doesn't know how to get out - this could account for his oft-gloomy appearance on the field, like a manacled inmate.
Which means KKR will now have to take the responsibility of fixing things at some point and take the captaincy leash off him. The sooner they do it, the better for all parties concerned. The odd wins should not deter them. A captain who is not performing with the bat finds it hard to earn the respect of the bunch and can't take it far.
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