While going to pick his man-of-the-match award on Sunday night, Dinesh Karthik tripped over his feet while trying to climb the podium. This scene seemed to carry more meaning than it actually, perhaps, did. It’s alluring one as well to see it as a metaphor for his stop-start international career.

Karthik was going to fill India’s wicket-keeping void in this century. But a long-haired fellow from Ranchi came along and occupied that space. The arrival of Mahendra Singh Dhoni was a coincidence that perhaps took away some of Karthik’s playing career.

With the exponential growth of Dhoni, to make a case for Karthik got tougher. Yet he played on in the domestic circuit, perhaps for the love of the sport, still in hope to play it at the highest level. And, he accepted without complaints the sporadic chances he got to play for the national team. When he was asked to open, he opened. When he was asked to keep wickets, he kept wickets. When he was made to stand in the deep, he stood. He was here, there and everywhere. Yet it seemed like he was going nowhere. Sometimes, he was called, when someone got injured. Sometimes, when he was called, he got injured. Start, stop, start, stop.

His international career statistics belie his cricketing prowess. For, he’d score a boundary off a shot that the best of batsmen wouldn’t risk playing. He’d pluck a catch behind the stumps becoming airborne and elastic. He’d effect a stumping that’ll become a YouTube hit. But the problem with Karthik is that he wouldn’t do these often enough.

Suffering to succeed

So, before the 2016 Indian Premier League, Karthik, according to this Indian Express story, sought Mumbai all-rounder Abhishek Nayar’s help for career-revival. He lived in a tiny room, bathed with broken plastic mugs, and changed his routine.

“It was a torture room for Karthik,” says Nayar in the article. “He is used to the good life. He stays in a bungalow back home in Chennai. But when he came to me, I wanted to take him to a zone where he’d never been before. It was tough and he would get angry on occasions. One time he begged me to let him go spend a night at a hotel.”

Karthik didn’t like it. But Karthik wanted it. It made Karthik get better. Suffering, sometimes, yields success.

He made over 700 runs in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy, in the one-dayers he made over 600 at an average of 118. He led Tamil Nadu to the Vijay Hazare Trophy title with a match-winning hundred.

After turning 30, Karthik made his way back to the Indian squad. But he was not a permanent fixture in the playing XI, only a backup option. Out of the nine limited overs matches in South Africa, Karthik played in one: the final T20I, in which he came out to bat with just 10 balls remaining in the innings and made a six-ball 13.

With Dhoni rested, the Nidahas Trophy was Karthik’s best opportunity to stake his claim for a prolonged run in the team. But once Dhoni’s back, he’d take his position behind the wickets. So, it was pertinent for Karthik to make runs than take catches. And, Karthik has never played a match-winning knock at the international stage. But batting lower down the order, he didn’t get a chance before the final to do so.

His scores before the final were: 13*(6), 2*(2), 39*(25) and 2*(2).

Tick-tock, tick-tock

34 needed from 12.

The clock was ticking. There were only two overs left. 34 runs needed. Bangladesh half-swallowed India after Mustafizur Rahman pegged them back in the 18th over with a wicket-maiden. Karthik had to do something. The man who’s been mostly called as a backup option now had to save his team from losing to Bangladesh for the first time in a tournament final.

On many days, Karthik looks fidgety. It’s as if he finds it near-impossible to contain and channelise his energy. But on Sunday night, he seemed to walk in with assurance. And, in the next six balls, he renewed India’s hope. There was: a six over long-on, a four over long-on, a six over square leg, a dot ball off a missed cut, a couple and a scoop to the long leg ropes. 22 runs were plundered off Rubel Hossain’s over.

12 needed from 6.

Vijay Shankar swung and miss and somehow hit and put Karthik on strike in the third ball of the over.

10 needed from 4.

Part-time pacer Soumya Sarkar bowled a perfect yorker. Only one.

9 needed from 3.

Vijay Shankar hit a four. Then, Vijay Shankar, trying to hit a six, got out skying a catch to long-on. The batsmen crossed over though. So, Karthik was to face the final ball. But no team in T20 history have won a final scoring more than one run off the final delivery of the 20th over.

Miracle needed from Karthik.

Sarkar ran in, and perhaps trying to bowl a wider yorker, bowled a length-ball outside off-stump. Karthik waited, got underneath and sent the ball soaring past the covers. He’d pulled off one of the most famous wins for his country.

After stumbling in his climb to the podium to get his man of the match award, he said, “The Indian team is a tough place to get an opportunity, but once you get it, you have to take it.”

Hopefully, Dinesh Karthik won’t stumble again.