Dinesh Karthik: Back again to where he belongs
"My comeback was not about winning or losing; it was about the feeling of being able to compete at the top level again." - Thomas Muster, former Austrian athlete
After a gap of eight years, Dinesh Karthik is back in the Test fold, named as a replacement for Wriddhiman Saha, who could not recover in time from the finger injury he sustained in the IPL, for the lone Afganistan Test.
There were few candidates for the job. Rishabh Pant was the talk of the town thanks to his batting exploits, but not everybody was sure of his prowess as a wicket-keeper, Parthiv Patel went to South Africa as the back-up wicketkeeper, but could not quite rise to the occasion and perform.
In that context, Karthik seems the right fit for the role. In the past, a few question marks have been raised about his work with the gloves in hand, but with the help of former India gloveman Sameer Dighe, he seems to have eliminated the flaws and looks a lot more assured, as was observed both in the Nidahas Trophy as well as the recently-concluded IPL.
The timing of his movements against the quicks and against the spinners, in particular, seems to have improved considerably compared to what it was before. It will be of keen interest to see what kind of pitch India dish out for the Test against Afghanistan because if it proves to be a turner, then against Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, he could have his hands full.
Karthik the batsman has been in fine form in recent times. In the 2016-17 Ranji season, he made 704 runs at an average of 69 and then in the same season, he performed very well in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, making 607 runs in 9 matches, helping Tamil Nadu win the competition.
The time that he has spent recently with the Indian team has been fruitful as well. His six off the final ball of Soumya Sarkar in the final to help win the competition has become the stuff of folklore, but prior to that as well, he did well with the ball in the ODIs against New Zealand.
He will head into the Test on the back of a good IPL, where he made 498 runs in 16 matches, captaining an unfancied Kolkata Knight Riders side to the Playoffs.
Along with the runs, he provides flexibility and that was evident in the 2007 tour to England with the ball darting to all corners. He finished as the team's highest run-getter in that tour with 263 runs at an average of 43. He has always had all the shots in the book, can clear the fence on a regular basis and maintains a good strike-rate.
Given those exploits, he does become an excellent back up looking beyond the lone Afghanistan Test.
He has been around for a long time in Indian cricket and with MS Dhoni occupying the wicketkeeping slot for a large chunk of the time, it meant that it was very difficult for him to find a place in the team. But despite all of that, he has hung on, motoring along in the grind of domestic cricket, watched by few spectators and spoken by even fewer.
Maybe this is the start of a second wind for him in Test cricket!