Special Correspondent

CHENNAI: Two days after keeping wickets at Newlands in South Africa, and hours after landing in the city, Dinesh Karthik drove to the ICL-Gurunanak College ground to participate in a team meeting ahead of Wednesday's crucial Ranji Trophy Super League match against Baroda.

Karthik spotted Irfan Pathan, who promptly put the Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper in a full-nelson hold.

Extricating himself with a plea in Hindi, Karthik caught up with his skipper, S. Badrinath, and watched the side practice.

Karthik, 21, came in for high praise from the likes of Barry Richards, Allan Donald, and Ravi Shastri for his performance in South Africa. Despite it being a heart-rending tour for Team India the tinge of hurt in his voice is unmistakable Karthik showed he had the skill and the temperament the big stage demands.

"It's been the most important tour of my life," said Karthik, who made 63 as a fill-in opener in the first innings of the third Test and a sparkling unbeaten 38 in the second innings as others congealed into strokelessness. "It showed me the different dimensions of my game, and how much I have improved."

Mentally prepared

How did he prepare for the challenge of facing the new ball? "On the night before the game, Rahul (Dravid) asked me to be ready, so I was prepared mentally. I just followed my usual routines."

Karthik also carved himself a slice of history when he became the first Indian Man of the Match in a Twenty20 game. "The most important thing for me is that I didn't panic. Usually in such situations, panic can set in and force you to go for the big shots early. But, I believed in my ability, and hit a six over the shortest boundary in the ground in the last over."

With M.S. Dhoni holding down the keeper's spot, Karthik found his way into the one-day side as a specialist batsman perhaps an indication of how his career will progress. "As long as I can contribute with the bat and in the field our computer analyst said I was saving six to eight runs every match I don't see why I can't fill that place."

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