Imagine yourself as a kid, on the morning of your trip to the massive amusement park everyone’s been talking about. You get up earlier than you ever have, dress up prim and proper, eat all your veggies and hop onto the car. On reaching the destination, you buy the tickets and you’re standing at the gate, marveling at the ferries wheel and roller coaster, and you can’t wait to get in and soak in the experience yourself. Then, just as you’re about to cross the security turnstiles, they announce that no new tourists are allowed inside anymore because someone has just bought the tickets for the whole month and agreed to buy sodas for everyone inside.
That’s what it must’ve felt like to be Dinesh Karthik when Mahendra Singh Dhoni scored that 148 against Pakistan at Visakhapatnam. Karthik was just 19, and only two weeks earlier, had scored a marvelous, match-turning, second-innings 93 against Pakistan at Kolkata. Karthik at 19 was everything a teenager should be, sprightly, athletic and completely fearless. He was also a twitchy character, refusing to stay still, but in between all that, he had already constructed an impressive resume of clutch knocks for Tamil Nadu and India, and that portrayed high promise. Karthik looked like the man for the long run, until it all came crashing down when India had unearthed a generational talent, and he couldn’t hold out against a man of Dhoni’s pedigree for too long.
Over all these years, he has kept pegging away at the selection committee, at most times without any success. To keep the motivation and fitness levels up while seeing year after year roll off your career without a proper run in national colors is not something every other athlete can achieve. Karthik is now 33, and that he’s starting a tour of England as India’s first-choice wicketkeeper tells you everything about the size of the heart he possesses.
Rahul Dravid, in a chat with ESPNCricinfo, mentioned how we tend to look at talent from the wrong perspective.
“We judge talent by people’s ability to strike a cricket ball; the sweetness or the timing of the ball. That’s the only thing we see as pure talent. Things like determination, courage, discipline, temperament...these are also talents. I think when we judge talent, we should look at the whole thing.”
Karthik’s importance in this team is now two-fold. Of late, India haven’t had a strong middle order in any format of the game. The meatiest bits of the batting order end with Kohli and after that it’s an abyss. Karthik offers the stability of technique and mind that could potentially solve the problem, and additionally plug India’s red-ball wicket-keeper worries until the next generation is ready.
As a bonus, Karthik has done well in England before. He played the 2007 Test series as a pure batsman, and returned with an average touching 44. He was called into the team for the Champions Trophy in 2013, where he averaged 41.
In the interim, Karthik has been piling on the runs for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy too, and left the selectors no choice but to return to his doorstep. He’s on a resurgent streak, and the last year has been tremendous for him, with the IPL captaincy and Nidahas Trophy heroics catapulting him further into Test contention for India. While Wriddhiman Saha is going through a bout of injuries, Karthik will not get a better chance to seal a firm spot in the test team.
Karthik is a very safe keeper, but India will need him to do well with the bat in the five Tests this summer. There are bound to be times when James Anderson and Stuart Broad run through a sizable portion of the top order and the onus of restabilising the Indian ship will then fall on his broad and experienced shoulders.
For the longest time, India had a sage coming to bat at number seven, and it’s poetic that Karthik’s journey from a restless ball of energy to a calming presence empowered his international comeback. He was once a picture of unpredictability, but India will now draw hope from seeing him striding out at 76/5, and in that lies Karthik’s biggest personal achievement.
It was in England in 2004 where Dinesh Karthik first made his mark with that stumping of Michael Vaughan. The same country now presents him with a chance to turn his career around and mark a plush bookend to this 14 year journey of toil, commitment and resolve that Indian cricket has been fortunate to harness.