With deepest apologies to Walt Whitman, who wrote O Captain my Captain I begin this story of a friendship that has spanned two decades.
When he first called me, Murali Kartik referred to me as sir, likely from having been in Delhi as long as he had, and I was working for the Cricinfo website. I had written a very complimentary piece on this left-arm spinner and yet he called with a complaint.
Apparently, in the statistics I had quoted I had missed a wicket he had taken. I double checked with Mohandas Menon, the pre-eminent statistician in India cricket at the time and he confirmed that I was not wrong. Politely but firmly I told Kartik it was best he concentrated on taking wickets and left the counting of the same to the rest of us.
Not soon after, we met.
Kartik was intimidating but friendly. He listened to what you had to say, and then gave you a spray anyway! I would have loved to have played with him, but I was never close to good enough. Also, given how he is, I would much rather he was in my team than the opposition.
Over the years we developed a kind of friendship that was predicated on conversation. While he was playing for Railways and India and then in the Indian Premier League he was always unfailingly generous with me. Forget about the countless jerseys, caps and sunglasses he gave me, he took me seriously as a cricket reporter and this was the highest compliment you could get from a current player.
We have disagreed plenty over the years. I always believed he did not do enough to push his case as India’s No. 2 Test spinner. Remember he played in the time of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. To this day I believe Kartik should have played for India a lot more than he did. Not for his sake but because he was a bloody good bowler.
One winter evening in Delhi, all fog and smog, Kartik was to come over for a meal. He called me to say he was bringing a friend, and would that be okay. Obviously it was and this was not a formal thing, just a simple daal-chawal after a few cold beverages.
It turned out that the man he brought over was Kulamani Parida, the Railways spinner who had played more than 100 first class matches, taking over 300 wickets before being called for chucking. Parida was at a low and Kartik did not want to leave his team-mate alone that evening. It was a cracking good evening of cricket chat. Kartik was typically generous and a proper team man.
In the years that came after I’ve had the chance to spend many evenings with Kartik, in his home in Gurgaon, as his guest in Taunton and in press boxes and cricket grounds around the world.
He will likely sledge me for writing this, but he is one of cricket’s good guys and a man with the kind of big heart you need if you are a left-arm spinner.