Virat Kohli is in England this summer as the Hundred finally takes flight and Dinesh Karthik, a teammate for the past decade or so and now one of the faces of Sky’s coverage, believes India’s captain will track the competition’s progress during a Test series his tourists very much fancy winning.
The success of the new 100-ball tournament won’t be defined by Kohli’s first impressions but an endorsement would do wonders. After all, in the eyes of Karthik and other members of the commentariat, his star quality and passion has done much to sustain Test cricket’s preeminence in recent times.
Like many, it will require something of a handbrake turn, however, with the world’s highest-profile player having previously written off the concept as an “experiment” he would not want to be testing. Karthik speaks of a character who, more broadly, is not totally intransigent.
“That’s his opinion and it’s very fair,” says Karthik, during a chat before a commentary stint at Edgbaston. “Each is entitled to their own and you have to respect it. Maybe if he [Kohli] watches it … he’s a straightforward guy and if he likes it he’ll say, and if he doesn’t, he’ll say he doesn’t.
“He loves Test cricket and he’s one of the reasons it’s where it is today; I think it’s in a stronger place than five years ago. It’s good to see people like him speak up for it and if he watches the Hundred and he likes it, he’ll say so.”
It is something of an open secret that the England and Wales Cricket Board has been coveting Indian interest in the Hundred. There is a desire to export this souped-up younger sibling to Twenty20 to the sport’s financial powerhouse, be it through Indian players featuring in the competition or, potentially, investors from the Indian Premier League.
So far just five stars of the Indian women’s team have been recruited – Smriti Mandhana, Shafali Verma, Harmanpreet Kaur, Deepti Sharma and Jemimah Rodrigues – but their men are currently barred from featuring in overseas leagues in order to maintain the IPL’s exclusivity.
Kohli is said to earn more from a single sponsored Instagram post than the £100,000 on offer in the top salary band and is, therefore, an unrealistic target. But Karthik, a star for Kolkata Knight Riders and a convert to the concept, says he would like to play himself and fancies others would too. “Given an opportunity, why not?” he says. “I think they would be [interested]. But because of the rules that are in place right now we are not able to come play. But who knows, if things can change, why not?
“I know a few of the cricketers – the likes of Suresh Raina, Robin Uthappa – they have come out and said they would like to play a few other franchise leagues but I don’t think it’s been accepted as of now. So we’ll wait and see. I would love to play. But with the rules in place, I’m very happy following them. We represent the BCCI, we represent the country. Whatever the rules are, I guess we have to follow them at this point in time.”
Karthik knows all about these constraints, having earned a rebuke from the BCCI in 2019 for simply appearing in the dressing room of the Trinbago Knight Riders, co-owned by his IPL team, during the Caribbean Premier League. He apologised at the time and stresses the fault was his for not flagging up the ambassadorial trip, although he does anticipate similar franchise tie-ins to KKR/TKR occurring if the ECB decides to seek overseas investment.
“Most definitely,” he says. “Teams in the IPL have bought teams in the CPL and I think it’s paying dividends for them. Over a period of time there is a brand developed. IPL is in a strong place but with two new teams coming in [from 2022], I’m sure they want to create a cricketing brand and an image.
“One of things you would like to do is spread your plate a little and buy into teams in other leagues. I’m sure if [the] Hundred is an option, that’s something they’ll definitely look into it.”
For now Karthik is happy with microphone in hand, having burst on to screens in the UK during Sky’s coverage of England’s white-ball fixtures of India earlier this year. He proved a hit, striking up a rapport with Nasser Hussain and Mike Atherton – two colleagues he thanks for welcoming him, while insisting the banter is “even stevens” – and dazzling with his array of cool shirts.
Karthik stresses he is not retired, however, and wants a strong second half to the IPL in order to break into India’s plans for the next two T20 World Cups. The 36-year-old was simply drawn by the challenge and wanted to break a stereotype back home that commentary is for former cricketers. He calls the Hundred groundbreaking – “they have simplified things for the new viewer. It could be like football” – but will also be working on the five-Test series that starts on 4 August.
Karthik has been showing Washington Sundar around London during the team’s recent break – India’s off-spinning all-rounder is a fellow son of Chennai – but insists he will be at ease analysing the tourists for their cricket, good or bad.
“The current players need empathy and not sympathy,” he says. “I try to get into their shoes and explain why they did something. There’s a difference between criticism and getting personal. I don’t get personal and the relationships I have, I feel comfortable speaking and would do the same to their faces.
“I don’t think it will be a problem and I think they trust me. As long as that line is established, they are comfortable. And I think they are a very confident set of players these days, not very insecure about these things.”
India have not won a Test series in England since 2007, when Karthik top-scored for his side from opener to help claim the Pataudi Trophy 1-0. But having twice humbled Australia in their own backyard in recent times, this summer presents an opportunity for the current, hugely talented generation, having missed out on the World Test Championship last month.
“It’s unconquered territory for some time now,” Karthik says. “The 2007 win came at a tumultuous time after losing out in the group stage of the World Cup. But we played well and turned cricket in India on its head. To know not one Indian batsman made a hundred in that series bar Anil Kumble [from No 8] in the final Test at the Oval is a credit in itself.
“I do think this Indian team is capable of winning here; they have the talent and, most importantly, the attitude. Now it comes down to techniques. It’s a long tour and won’t be won in the first Test, but knowing the belief in that dressing room, I would back an Indian team to do well.”
Much will hinge on the blade of Kohli and though English cricket will be hoping India’s all-powerful captain is successfully kept quiet in this regard, it certainly won’t mind if he tunes into the Hundred in his hotel room after stumps, likes what he sees and publicly says as much.
Dinesh Karthik is part of the Sky Sports team for the Hundred this summer. Watch every ball live on Sky Sports The Hundred.