One of the highlights of Tamil Nadu's win over Maharashtra in the Group B Ranji Trophy game was the impressive show by Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps. Karthik, 27, has often been criticised for his lacklustre wicketkeeping, but he has put in the hard yards and looks a better sight with the big gloves now. Karthik, who seems to be enjoying his role more at the moment, spoke to Wisden India before leaving for Delhi for Tamil Nadu's next Ranji assignment. M. Sanjay, the former Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper and current fielding and wicketkeeping coach for the team, also provided his perspective on what Karthik has worked on. Excerpts:
You seem to have improved considerably as a wicket-keeper. Was it a confidence issue in the past that affected your skills as a 'keeper?
Karthik: Confidence was never a factor. I did not concentrate on 'keeping as much I should have and realised it at the start of the 2011-12 season. Once I started putting in more time in to it, I also started enjoying the craft more and my performance improved. Leading Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy was also another reason. As a leader your mind is entwined with other things as well. Once I stepped down from captaincy I was able to allot more time to my game. Personally I have never been more assured as a 'keeper than I am at the moment.
Your ability as a batsman was never in doubt. It is your wicketkeeping that has often been under the microscope. Did your poor form as 'keeper also affect you as a batsman at times?
Karthik: Sometimes it might look like I train all my energy on batting alone but that is not the truth. Once the word goes around that you are not keeping well then it is not easy to rectify that. Yes I did not enjoy the best of form as a wicketkeeper but I have really worked hard to be where I am today. As a batsman it is easy to prove that I am back in form by scoring runs. But the same cannot be done by a 'keeper. I might have collected every ball that came my way and each throw that came in but that will have no reflection in the scorecard. It is actually hard to prove you have improved as a 'keeper unless someone sits through an entire day and watches me go through the grind.
What is your honest take on your abilities as a wicketkeeper?
Karthik: I am naturally athletic and I have kept wickets from a young age and I back myself to the hilt to do the job well. It has been more a question of working on a few areas and improving. At the highest level, one dropped catch can change an entire series and I have to be honest and admit I did miss a few. But the improvement started happening last year. It is a process, and I am continuing to work on areas that affected me previously.
Did you work on any specific area?
Karthik: One evolves as 'keeper and as I said earlier, it's a constant process. I touched base on all aspects of 'keeping. I received a lot of help from Samir Dighe [former Indian wicketkeeper] in Mumbai just before the season started. He spent a week with me in Mumbai where the total concentration was on improving my glovework and gathering. I did not even think about batting during that period. Dighe's inputs were extremely good and it worked well for my confidence. M Sanjay [Tamil Nadu's fielding coach] also played an influential role in my improvement. Without the guidance from them this would have not been possible.
Sanjay, were there too many technical issues with Karthik the wicketkeeper?
Sanjay: This might sound elementary but even the biggest players tend to lose sight of basics. It can happen to anyone. Sometimes we tend to pay lesser attention to basics and that played a part in Karthik's loss of form as a wicketkeeper. A few bad habits can creep in during those times but the good thing is that Karthik has put all that behind him and is enjoying the job more than he ever has.
Can you explain briefly on the areas you worked on with Karthik?
Sanjay: I started with his legside gathering. He was moving away way too much and that led to the left leg lifting more than what it has to. What happens is you tend to concentrate on balance more than the gather. Karthik was also not allowing the ball into his gloves. Tennis ball catching helped and he has a better feel now. I also noticed he was standing a yard or two back than normal to the medium pacers. Usually this is a confidence issue and we worked on that as well. He is naturally agile, and it is more a question of doing what is required to get back to where he was. The first thing I told Karthik was to back himself as a 'keeper. Sometimes the expectations on him as batsman can also take a toll on his 'keeping but he has managed to do justice to both departments wonderfully well.