“Nevertheless, a lot of people, including Karthik himself believes that he is currently going through the best phase of his career, both as a keeper and batsman. So, this Test match is an ideal opportunity to make things count”
On Thursday (June 14), Dinesh Karthik will make his sixth comeback in the Indian Test team when the 33-year old will take the field against Afghanistan at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru in place of an injured Wriddhiman Saha. This will be his 24th Test in 14 years with the last one being in 2010 in Bangladesh — such is his inconsistency. Since making his debut way back in 2004, his Test career (read that international career) never really took off and this is perhaps his final chance at redemption.
Right from being India’s first-choice wicketkeeper-batsman across formats in the pre-Dhoni era to a specialist Test opener against England and Pakistan in 2007 — in his patchy Test career, the Chennai boy has seen it all. But his middling performances [batting average 27.33 in 37 innings] had always let Karthik down. His restlessness in both sides of the stumps hurt the Indian team at crucial junctures. As a result, the Tamil Nadu cricketer couldn’t cement his place in the side, despite having the potential. And following the arrival of MS Dhoni, Karthik fell out of contention, so much so that after Dhoni’s retirement, selectors did not back him and decided to invest in Saha. Even at times, Prathiv Patel was preferred ahead of him.
It is not that Karthik doesn’t know about his shortcomings. In fact, he has no shame in admitting the fact that, in 2007-08, he was not good enough to keep someone like Dhoni out of the team.
“I guess I did not perform well enough before. I wasn’t consistent enough. There was a highly competitive environment. MS Dhoni was breathing down my neck, causing a lot of stir in Test cricket at that point of time,” he said on Tuesday (June 12) while addressing a presser on the sidelines of India’s practice session ahead of the Afghanistan Test.
“He [Dhoni] has gone on to become probably one of the greatest Test cricket captains India has ever produced. So, it’s not that I lost out my place to some normal cricketer. He has been a special cricketer over a period of time and I respect him for that.
“Just the fact that I couldn’t at that stage produce enough performances to hold on to my place [which frustrates me]. I think I need to be honest with myself. I think I wasn’t as good then. I have another opportunity now and I guess I will try to do my best,” the comeback man added further.
However, despite being sidelined from the Test side, Karthik has always remained a domestic giant. In 2008-09, the stylish right-hand batsman made over 1000 First-Class runs, with five centuries including a 213. For five seasons following that — barring 2010-11, 2013 [when he featured in only one game] and 2015-16 — he had maintained a batting average above 40. Also, in between, Karthik kept on making those token appearances in India’s limited-overs’ side.
Earlier this year, he was called up by the team management to join the Test team in South Africa as back-up for Patel. Saha had injured himself after the first Test in Cape Town, and Patel, the second wicketkeeper in the squad, had a poor game with the gloves in Centurion. So, the think-tank was in search of a third option and in came Karthik.
However, unfortunately, he did not get a place in the playing XI at Wanderers. But following yet another failure of Patel; Karthik well and truly emerged as India second-choice keeper. Furthermore, in recent times his improved show in white-ball cricket, especially his heroics in the Nidahas Trophy final and with the Kolkata Knight Riders in the recently concluded Indian Premier League, Karthik’s overall reputation as a wicketkeeper-batsman has also been increased significantly.
Hence, when Saha injured himself ahead of the historic inaugural Test against Afghanistan, the selectors had no hesitation in announcing Karthik’s name as a replacement. And who knows, if he comes out with a strong all-round show, Karthik may go to England as India’s first-choice keeper. On the other hand, a failure here can very well shut the door for him forever, at least in the longer format.
So, as cliche as it may sound, but at this crucial juncture of his career, Karthik just wants to go through the motions, rather than focusing on long-term goals.
“If I now go and try to think about how I can keep my place and keep someone else out, it becomes very subjective. You end up thinking ‘I need to score here, I need to do this, I need to do that.’ I don’t want to keep it that way. I just want to make the best of the opportunities I get,” he explained.
Nevertheless, a lot of people, including Karthik himself believes that he is currently going through the best phase of his career, both as a keeper and batsman. So, this Test match is an ideal opportunity to make things count.