It has been 13 years since established Tamil Nadu batsman Dinesh Karthik made his international debut in India colours against England at London. He was a mere 19-year old back then whose promising signs as wicket-keeper-batsman made the selectors propel him into the Indian team. Although his return of a solitary run after facing 12 deliveries on debut failed to make an instant impression, one can hardly forget the way he stumped Michael Vaughan and turned the course of the match in India’s favour. Despite the initial promise, his career in the coming years proved to be a disappointment as it never attained the expected heights.
However, recent domestic exploits with the bat and a couple of good knocks on an international comeback in the West Indies have once again forced the selectors to turn their attention towards Karthik. In the 2016/17 domestic season, he scored 704 runs in the Ranji Trophy, 211 runs in the Duleep Trophy, 607 runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy as well as 202 runs in the Deodhar Trophy at averages of 54.51, 52.75, 86.71 and 101 respectively. He followed it up with a superb outing in the Indian Premier League (IPL), scoring 361 runs in 14 matches at an average of 36.10 and strike rate touching 140.
He was also selected in the squad for the ICC Champions Trophy earlier this year on the back of such performances, but he didn’t get to play a match. However, he proved his mettle in the following series against West Indies, scoring an unbeaten 50 in the ODI series at a run-a-ball, and a 48 in the one-off T20I at a strike rate of over 160. His selection in the Indian squad for the three-match T20I series against Australia is just a result of those performances. And it is high time Karthik repays the selectors' faith in him by proving himself in the limited opportunities he gets. If he is able to do so, he will make a strong case for a much deserved extended run in Indian colours once again.
Karthik, now a veteran of 156 first-class matches, was considered to be one of the best wicket-keeper-batsmen around the country during his initial days. And that was what led him to make his debut for India much before the arrival of the legend called MS Dhoni.
However, errors and mistakes started showing up in his wicket-keeping technique and a poor run of form with the bat resulted in his sacking from the team after only a few matches. And once the world became accustomed to Dhoni’s heroics match after match, Karthik never got a call-up to the team for the wicket-keeper’s role again, despite the fact that he was churning out consistent runs in domestic cricket.
However, he continued to make sporadic appearances on the international stage as a specialist batsman in the Indian team. A maiden Test hundred in Bangladesh in 2006 and some crucial fifties after opening the innings that helped India gain a series victory over England in 2007 revived his hopes of becoming a regular in the Indian side again.
But, that was the end of the road for his consistency as a lean patch led to his ouster from the team once again. Change in team dynamics and shuffling of his batting position in almost every match in order to accommodate other players also were the main reasons behind his downfall. The period that followed saw Karthik making sporadic appearances once again for India without getting many opportunities to show his mettle. His India career seemed to be over as he didn’t get any sort of opportunity after 2014.
However, it has once again been revived with his recent accomplishments, and he will look to make it big each time he takes the field. If he performs well in the limited opportunities he gets, selectors should also think about giving him an extended run in the T20Is at least, if not in ODIs. He has transformed and matured as a batsman over the years in leaps and bounds. Both his strike rate and consistency have improved. Moreover, he has made his batting approach perfectly capable of catching up with modern day cricket. With Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha still being at the helm of things in limited-overs formats and Tests respectively, it is impossible for Karthik to replace them in the wicket-keeper's role for the time being. However, his batting skills are good enough to get him a permanent slot in the Indian middle order in limited-overs cricket.
"I see myself competing for a batsman’s slot. I keep scoring runs and at the moment the team has six-seven places for batsmen. So I think I can contribute to the team in that way. I have been playing well for the last few seasons and my runs speak for themselves.
"I feel my batting skills are good enough to pick me solely as a batsman,” Karthik had said after he had led Tamil Nadu to their fifth Vijay Hazare title a couple of months back.
His international records so far do not make for an impressive reading. Averages of 27.77 and 28.43 in Tests and ODIs respectively do not say anything about Karthik's potential as a batsman.
However, on considering his first class and List-A record it will be seen that his averages have always been around the 40s. Moreover, a strike rate of 73.22 in ODIs might give an impression that he is not fit for modern-day limited overs cricket. However, an overall List-A career strike rate spanning 200 matches is 91.81, and that tells about his ability to score quickly. His T20 strike rate also nears the healthy 130s and suggests that he has no problems at all in scoring runs at a brisk rate.
His wicket-keeping has also improved a lot over the years and a backup wicket-keeper in a team is very important in case the first choice keeper gets injured in the course of a match. Besides, he is an excellent fielder as well who can add a lot of energy to the fielding unit. The wealth of experience that he brings to the table with himself is also something invaluable for the Indian team when coupled with his excellent batting and fielding skills.
The 32-year old has already spent a lot of time waiting behind the curtains for his opportunity. So he will be eager to prove himself this time. A strong performance in the T20I series against Australia will make a strong case for his inclusion in the ODI squad as well. If he is able to do so, it will be mutually beneficial to both him and India, who don't have a dependable middle-order batsman at the moment.
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