Dinesh Karthik: A Career Of Missed Opportunities

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MUMBAI, INDIA - NOVEMBER 4: Michael Clarke of Australia is stumpted by Dinesh Kartik of India during day two of the Fourth Test between India and Australia at Wankhede Stadium on November 4, 2004 in Mumbai, India. (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Dinesh Karthik: A Career Of Missed Opportunities

It’s been a while since Dinesh Karthik has played a game of Test cricket for India. 8 years to be precise. He now makes a return to the Indian side to play the solitary Test match against Afghanistan in Bangalore. Initially he was overlooked for the Test regular, Wriddhiman Saha, but fate has had its say and KD Karthik finds himself playing only his 24th Test match in a career that would span over 15 years.

Chapter 1 – The Debut

Back in 2004, when Karthik made his Test debut as a 19 year old, he was making all the right noises to fill the major void in Indian cricket – the wicket keeper batsmen role. The one who would anchor the innings with the lower middle order. Parthiv Patel had a good couple years and was performing exceptionally for his age, but his keeping was always questionable. Karthik was drafted in when Patel was forced out due to an injury for the final Test match against Australia, played in Mumbai. He made 2 dismissals and scored 14 runs.

But his astute wicket keeping and calm presence behind the stumps, earned him the right to retain his spot in the following South Africa series. He was touted as the next big thing for Indian cricket. The press were writing that,  players like Ajay Ratra and Deep Dasgupta have improved but India should move on. Patel is young and should not be forgotten, but Karthik is the man India need. Any replacement should be confident enough to withstand the rigours of international cricket.” (Cited from ESPN Cricinfo)

Chapter 2 – The Rollercoaster Ride

 Unfortunately for Karthik, it went downhill from there. 10 Test innings of poor showings with the bat, meant that by the end of 2005, a man named Mahendra Singh Dhoni,would take over the helm of wicket keeping for India, on the merits of his keen showings in the country’s limited overs side. This Test marked the start of the MS Dhoni era – The greatest wicket keeper batsman in India’s Test history.

But Karthik didn’t give up. Dhoni was obviously the dominant force as India’s wicket keeper and as a result, multiple talented keepers have fallen prey to the fantastic career of the former Indian captain. But not Dinesh Karthik. Karthik went back to the basics. Scored runs and set the domestic circuit alight with his stellar performances. He more often than not, did enough to always flirt with the final 15 man squad that India would pick. This lead to a notable contribution to Indian cricket early in his career.

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Karthik flew out to tour England in 2007. He was handed the role of the opening batsmen. A role he took by the collar and smashed it. In retrospect, it was no gamble actually. The then  selectors and leadership knew what they were doing. He had shown his batting quality before in the Indian side and he had managed to open in the domestic circuit. He was there on the merits of his mixed experience. His calm, composed and constructed batting handed India their last series win in England. Probably the best reflection of an Indian side lead by Rahul Dravid. Karthik himself was awarded the ‘Player of the Series’ trophy. That year concluded Karthik’s personal best year as a batsmen in tests. Scored 686 runs with an average of 42.86 across 17 innings. He scored his only Test hundred till date too. But unfortunately, he found the axe again as he fared poorly in the home series against Pakistan.

Chapter 3 – Cameos To Forget

But Karthik did what he always did. He went back to the basics. The cycle repeated. Just like how the sun rises and sets. Karthik earned a call-up, much like his previous stints – replacing the injured man. Dhoni was offered a rest for the tour of Sri Lanka. But the third time wasn’t the charm. Karthik scored less than 50 runs across 4 innings and did not have much to show behind the wickets either. Fittingly, as karma would have it, Parthiv Patel was called up to replace the man who replaced him, four years hence.

But fate offered a chance at redemption. MS was offered a rest in the Napier Test of 2009. Karthik flew in as back-up on the basis of a strong domestic season, only to find himself to bare the brunt of another test performance to forget. As for poetic justice, the cycle repeated itself once again. Dhoni rested for the Chittagong Test in 2010, Karthik drafted in, only to make a hash of it. Again. It was looking like the sun had set over the promising career that could have been.

Chapter 4 – The Domestic Don

The Chittagong Test in 2010 was the last straw for the Indian selectors. Karthik had not showed them the consistency they were looking for in a replacement. And with MS Dhoni’s retirment shortly after the World Cup, Karthik’s name wasn’t even in the pool for the back up spot. That irked most people though. Here’s why: Karthik was having phenomenal success in the domestic scene. He scored almost 6000 runs for his state side, Tamil Nadu at 46.17. He scored over 1000 runs in 2008-09 as he amassed four centuries and a 213. All this as the captain of Tamil Nadu, playing a crucial role in their run to the semi-finals. Since, he has always maintained a healthy average of 40+. Moreover, his wicket-keeping was also arguably better if not, on-par with the candidates who were above him in the pecking order.

Wriddhiman Saha has made the spot his since MS Dhoni retired and he has done reasonably well. It would most definitely be a close call between the two as to who has a better keeping technique. The stats reflect it too, as both keepers float around the half way mark for dismissals per innings, but Karthik’s batting was leagues above. Parthiv Patel was the other considered over Karthik. The less said about his wicket-keeping the better. If memory fades, then the recent two tests against South Africa should be enough a teaser to call back those horrendous misjudgements made. It was something that always featured in Patel’s arsenal.

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Chapter 5 – The Last Chance Saloon

Karthik has had some rejuvenation. His form in the domestic circuit and IPL had regained him a spot in the limited overs side. He was given the role of a specialist batsmen under MS Dhoni. Made the touring party for the winning team of the Champions Trophy in 2013, also played in England. Has been an in-out squad player ever since. And most recently, made himself known as a smart finisher in T20s. He can clobber it if asked and he can restructure innings. He is also a smart leader as he showcased for his IPL franchise, the Kolkata Knight Riders.

All this did enough to get the phone ringing, again. He was drafted in as Parthiv Patel’s back-up in South Africa and now, over taken Patel into the Indian side. Just as always, the regular is injured and Karthik wins the lottery. This would be the perfect chance for him to stake a claim to be on the plane to England, a country which has always proven to be lucky for him. He recorded his first ever dismissal in international cricket in the NatWest ODI series – the inhuman horizontal stumping of Vaughan. 14 years on, the spot may be up for grabs.

Virat Kohli has always been a firm believer of maintaining the team’s core. He has been quite vocal about restroring the team’s senior members back to the playing 11, irrespective of the replacement’s form. Karthik may find himself a victim of that policy but a strong performance in Bangalore on the 14th of June, coupled with his experience and showcasings of the past in England, he could very well win the lottery again. Will the resurgence continue? June 14th promises to be a great day for world sport altogether. But it could mark the start of Karthik’s new fairy tale.

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