'My ultimate aim is to play all formats as a batsman'
Dinesh Karthik has racked up 1872 runs in 36 innings - the most by a player across formats in the 2016-17 Indian domestic season. In fact, his 607 runs in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy is a tournament record. Having led Tamil Nadu to back-to-back titles with hundreds in the finals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Deodhar Trophy, Karthik seems to be knocking on the national selectors' doors. He opens up on his consistency with the bat, improvement as a wicketkeeper, and comeback aspirations.
You had a bumper List A season - 854 runs in 12 innings.
I am definitely happy with the season. I am in a good space mentally and when I am on the field. I just ride with the wave. I am just as positive as I can be and do the best as I can.
Your confidence as a batsman stood out during the Vijay Hazare games, particularly in the final. You were driving fluently on the off side, despite fielders being placed at point, backward point, cover point and extra cover.
I am hitting the ball well and getting into good positions. When you are doing that, you tend to look at the gaps a lot more and play your shots. The difference between batting well and not that well is that you generally find gaps. I have been lucky that way this season.
What's the difference between the in-form Dinesh Karthik and the Dinesh Karthik of old?
This Karthik prepares well off the field. That has been the difference. Training helps you get physically stronger and a lot of times it helps you push the bar mentally as well. The way we trained at the Vijay Hazare and before the Ranji Trophy, it helped us. You might have spoken to [Hrishikesh] Kanitkar [the Tamil Nadu coach]. The practice situations were like match situations. It was definitely hard - the body is pushed far more than it used to be, and the result showed in the way we played in the last couple of tournaments.
From a small sample size, it seems like your bat comes down a lot straighter now. Have you worked on your technique recently?
In the last year I have been working on the technical aspects with Apurva Desai [a former Gujarat first-class batsman who is now an NCA Level C coach]. I can relate to what he says. Before that I had been working with Pravin Amre. I got my backlift corrected. Such things are helping me in playing in different conditions and different wickets. The backlift used to be rounded, it used to come from almost gully in an arc. It is much straighter now and helps me play the ball a lot better.
What is your assessment of your shot selection this season? Kanitkar was critical of a scoop you played in a low-scoring Ranji Trophy match against Mumbai, and you reached the Vijay Hazare hundred with a reverse sweep. You play your shots, but the execution looks better these days.
I have been pretty free-flowing in my batting. I have not let situations change my batting around too much. I have just changed a bit, depending on the situation here and there. I don't go harder than necessary at the ball. I try to maintain an even tempo in all the games. Sometimes you play well and sometimes you get out. When you get out, you feel it is a wrong shot. Most players in tough situations play shots that could be out, but over time you refine that and give yourself the best chance of performing, the more you play in such situations.
Are you consciously looking to build on your starts now?
Yes, after playing so many games it is important to absorb pressure in the middle overs and play at a certain tempo without disrupting the run rate. You will have to find the safest manner to keep going consistently over a period of time before you can launch. I think you need to have a lot of instinctive shots to play that kind of a game. I can understand situations better at this point of time.
Your 854 runs - the fourth highest in a List A season in India - will be hard for the selectors to ignore when they pick the squad for the Champions Trophy.
I am not thinking that far ahead to the Champions Trophy. The key for me is to play the IPL as well as I can.
With MS Dhoni as India's one-day keeper, do you see yourself as a specialist batsman if you are picked?
Yes, I believe I can contribute to the middle order as a specialist batsman, like I did in 2013. I have always believed in my batting abilities. I have always put my hand up as a pure batsman and have enjoyed fielding as well. My ultimate aim is to play all formats as a batsman. I have done it before. When Dhoni was there as keeper, I played as a specialist batsman. I keep telling myself there is no reason why I can't repeat it.
Keeping is an accessory. It is always there with me. If somebody is injured, I can always keep. But I am looking at myself primarily as a batsman who can play all formats.
How have you improved as a batsman and as a keeper?
As a batsman, I respond to situations much better. Experience has helped me be in a lot of different situations, and a lot of that experience and knowledge is coming into play now.
Coming to keeping, I need to give a lot of credit to Sameer Dighe [the former India keeper Karthik trained with]. I could not keep for four or five Ranji Trophy games and it was hard on me mentally. The doors opened [when India's current Test keeper Wriddhiman Saha was injured and Parthiv Patel was picked as his replacement] but I could not keep then [due to injury]. That did not help. Then I started keeping and I am enjoying it.
Keeping is like a work in progress. The more hours you spend, the better you get. A keeper sometimes takes five or six catches. It is not about taking the straightforward ones, but it is about the best keeper you can be to spinners and fast bowlers overall. Whenever I find a break, I go and work with Dighe on my keeping. I have got into the groove after the injury. I am naturally comfortable against fast bowlers, I am athletic. Against spinners you will have to anticipate [the turn and bounce] and make sure the hands are not stiff. I am working on it. Keeping, like batting, is a subconscious process.
Where do you see yourself in the wicketkeeping pecking order - there's Saha, Rishabh Pant, Naman Ojha and Parthiv.
I don't look at the pecking order. Competition is always there. There are 27 states and 27 different keepers. They are all vying for the national spot. What I can do is focus as much as I can and believe in my abilities.
What's your role going to be with the Gujarat Lions in the IPL?
Hodgy [Lions' coach Brad Hodge] has given me straightforward plans of what I should be doing with the bat in the middle order. I would like to stick to that and do the best that I can for the team.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo