Time and Circumstance

Although, in the face of strong competition, he never established himself in the Indian side, Murali Kartik has been an outstanding left-arm spinner whose virtues are perhaps better known in England, as a result of spells playing for Lancashire, Middlesex and Somerset, than in his home country.

I wrote this after an afternoon spent watching him bowl at Taunton in the summer of 2010.

With Australia and Pakistan engaged in a virile exchange of punch and counter-punch at Headingley, in the quieter surroundings of Taunton the home side came up just short of a victory which would have enhanced their claims to a title they’ve never won.

Central to Somerset’s attack was a 33 year-old Indian left-arm spin bowler called Murali Kartik, whose enchanting blend of persistence, aggression, variation and variety was as impressive and elegant as anything anyone will see on the playing fields of England this summer.

For someone who appears to embody all that is traditional and great about Indian slow bowling, Kartik has had an uneven, unfulfilled career.  Eight long-forgotten Tests, with unspectacular, journeyman’s results; thirty-odd ODIs for a high average in an era when they were ten a penny.  Sporadically outstanding county cricket for Lancashire, Middlesex and Somerset.

As with many a cricketer, Kartik will forever lament that he was born at the wrong time, for the twin shadows of Harbhajan and Kumble, together with the more gaudy attributes of any number of mystery spinners, have hung heavy over his career.  For all that, to watch him bowl from the River End at Taunton, unchanged for an afternoon, was to be educated, captivated and reminded of the skill and beauty of the spinner’s art.

Orthodox in conception and practice, Kartik’s spin comes from an action that appears as natural as breathing.  While he can turn the ball prodigiously in the right conditions, the aspect which really stood out at Taunton was the way in which he consistently gave the ball air in a manner that is rarely seen these days outside the movies.  In consequence the average young – and not-so-young – English batsman who faces Kartik is forced to play outside his comfort zone in a way he can barely understand, let alone execute.  He gets out.

As I wrote earlier in the week, with Warne and Murali gone, Panesar faded from view and Mendis supplanted, the world of spin is now a less colourful place.  Time and circumstance mean that Murali Kartik is highly unlikely to play any part in its regeneration at international level; that will be left to the likes of Swann and Vettori, and, in India, to his younger compatriots, Bhajji himself, Pragyan Ojha, Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla.

In England, Monty will continue to have his days but the future looks uncertain, Adil Rashid continues to look good without taking the decisive step forward his talents deserve, and Hampshire’s Danny Briggs looks to have many of Kartik’s qualities.

Kartik, though, is special.  Enjoy him while you can.

Different Shades of Green, 24th July 2010

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