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Good luck, Dinesh Karthik

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Dinesh_Karthik_India_Test_CricketIt was the early years of the 21st century. India was struggling to find a wicketkeeper after Nayan Mongia was unceremoniously ousted from the side, for reasons known to readers. Mongia played his last game for India in 2001.

MSK Prasad, the present chairman of selectors, had a 6-match stint but did not impress. Syed Saba Karim, Vijay Dahiya, Samir Dighe, Ajay Ratra and Deep Dasgupta, kept wickets in 29 Tests among themselves, between 2000 and 2002. Parthiv Patel debuted in 2002 as a teenager and seemed for a while, to have cemented his place, but that was not to be.

Then Dinesh Karthik got a look-in as a Test keeper against the Aussies in a Mumbai Test match. He scored 14 runs in two outings to the crease and had a catch and a stumping to his credit. He came good in a winning cause in 2004 against the Proteas, with a crisp 46 in the first innings and 6 scalps behind the stumps. Kolkata (interestingly he is now the skipper of the KKR in the IPL) proved lucky again for him when Pakistan came visiting in 2005. A brisk 93 supporting Rahul Dravid, who went on to score a ton in a match-winning cause, and reasonably good glove-work behind the stumps may have made many (yours sincerely for sure) think that DK had come to stay in Test cricket, for a long time to come.

A short run-drought followed, but DK came into his own quickly in an away-series against South Africa, in which he opened the batting with Wasim Jaffer at times. His wicketkeeping, however, started showing marked signs of inconsistency, and this made the selectors to look out for a specialist wicketkeeper. In strode MS Dhoni.

DK continued to play for India as a specialist batsman right up the order. He had to work on his ‘outfield-fielding’ skills though, just as Rahul Dravid had to spruce up his wicketkeeping skills in ODIs, to stay on in the Indian team. It is as a specialist opening batsman, with Dhoni in the side as keeper, that he got his maiden Test hundred in Dhaka – in a run fest where the first four batsmen notched up hundreds, and Dhoni chipped in with a half century.

A handful of 50s followed on the tour to England in 2007. DK was back, briefly keeping wickets for India in Tests against the Pakistan – and in a match in Bengaluru he got a 50, before the gradual slide into oblivion began.

Eight long years later, he was called back to the Test squad, for the one-off Test series against the Afghans, thanks to Saha’s injury. Now, DK will keep wickets and bat for India against the Poms, at least in the first Test of the five Test series which commenced on the 1st of August.

Karthik has demonstrated his liking for away-pitches and most of his big scores thus far have come about on foreign soil – Bangladesh, England and South Africa. As far as England goes, he added three 50s to his tally in 2007 at Lord’s, Trent Bridge and Kennington Oval.

Fate has given DK an opportunity again. What is needed is persistence and courage and faith to make the most of it. And there is a purpose behind this recall after a long hiatus. DK may well know it. He is now 32. If he makes use of every opportunity he gets to go out and bat – a maximum of 10, if he plays in all 5 Test matches – scoring a half century in at least 6 innings (not a big ask from a man of his calibre), he would make Saha fight hard to regain his place on the Test side.

Depending on how the series shapes up and how the likes of Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Rahul etc. perform as openers, Kohli and Shastri – fully aware of DK’s ability to open the innings on foreign soil and get good runs for the team – may well try sending DK up the order. Some readers may remember that Murali Vijay was reportedly responsible for an upheaval in DK’s personal life, years ago. Whether there are any undercurrents still lurking, I do not know. If not, the Tamilians could make a good opening pair – one cool and composed and steady; the other a bit mercurial, like another Tamilian of yesteryear - Kris Srikkanth.

Dinesh Karthik’s fortunes seem to be changing for the better now. Some setbacks in his private life coincided with his fading away from the Test scene. He has resurged over the last 3 years, after his second marriage. He knows now that he can apply himself heart, mind, soul, glove and bat to the game, and stay on, centre-stage, for at least 5 years if not more.

Rishabh Pant and the youngsters can compete for a spot in the ODI and T20 sides. MSD, going by the lacklustre performance in the ODI series in England recently, may well hang up his boots after the World Cup next year. He will then be 38. But one cannot say. MSD is a master at reinventing himself, as he showed in the 2018 IPL for Chennai Super Kings.

One wonders what would have happened if he had been both a great wicketkeeper and a consistent batsman in Test cricket. One might never have heard of MS Dhoni…in Test cricket at least. Perhaps MSD would still have captained India in ODIs and T20s and brought home the laurels.

DK though has a lot of cricket left in him…if only he can apply himself. He needs to grab this opportunity with both hands and bond himself to the cause with a will of steel. Good luck to him from the bottom of this cricket-lover’s heart!

 

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G Venkatesh (born 1972) is a senior lecturer in Energy and Environment, at Karlstad University in S...

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