Sometimes life becomes extra challenging for a few. They need to go through more tests than others to prove their worth. One such case is the unfortunate case of Dinesh Karthik.
Karthik's career has spanned over 14 years but he has only played 147 International games across formats for India. In spite of a long career, he could never find a regular place in the team.
Of late, Karthik reinvented himself as a finisher in the team and has even helped India win some games from critical situations. He has scored crucial 30s and 40s to ensure wins in numerous games in the last couple of years.
Despite his valuable contributions in recent times, Karthik has been ignored for the ODI series against Australia. His omission has come in India's last ODI series before the 2019 World Cup.
Very few know that Karthik made his Test and ODI debut in 2004, before MS Dhoni. The sublimity of MS Dhoni can never be questioned and there is no way Karthik would have been a better choice than him. However, looking at his meagre number of games over the years, there is a viewpoint that the Tamil Nadu gloveman has always been in the line of fire from the selectors.
Dinesh Karthik had delivered a string of centuries in the 2002-03 season before initially making his way into the national team. Since then, he has been a frequent scorer in the domestic cricket but has failed to find a regular place in the national side. However, he has continued making intermittent appearances in the team.
He was one of the many wicket-keepers tried by then captain Sourav Ganguly. After making his ODI debut against England at Lord's in September 2004, he was handed his Test cap a couple of months later in Mumbai against Australia. However, a string of low scores over the years and the emergence of Dhoni kept him away from the national squad.
Splendid performances in between
He kept making brief appearances in the national team. Karthik was preferred in the Test series in England in 2007 as a replacement of Virendra Sehwag. He stood the test of the time and demonstrated a compact technique to help India script history away from home. Along with Wasim Jaffer, he gave India solid starts. He even emerged as the leading run-getter from India in the series, ahead of the likes of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, and Sourav Ganguly.
Karthik was then part of India's squad for the World Cup 2007. But, unfortunately, that campaign ended early for the Men in Blue. He was also a part of India's victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup in South Africa. His airborne catch of Graeme Smith at slips is still fresh in every cricket aficionado's mind.
But his indifferent form in sparse chances kept him away most of the times. However, Karthik continued to deliver his brilliance in domestic cricket. In 2013, a strong IPL season helped him earn a berth in Champions Trophy 2013.
He continued his splendid form in India's unbeaten campaign in the tournament and even hit centuries in the warm-up games. The right-hander delivered reasonable performances in the limited opportunities that he got in the tournament.
From being bought for INR 12.5 Crores by Delhi Daredevils to becoming the Kolkata Knight Riders captain, Karthik's value has kept growing the IPL. Yet, he has still not been a preferred choice for any permanent spot in the team.
When Dhoni retired from the Tests in 2014, it was very much expected that Karthik would take over the reins. However, Wriddimann Saha grabbed the spot with impressive performances.
And when Saha got injured, Karthik was called into the lineup for the two Tests in England 2018. However, he batted poorly and once again lost his place to Rishabh Pant. He was then not preferred for the following away Test series in Australia.
The Nidahas Trophy triumph and Karthik's development into a finisher
When the Nidahas Trophy phenomenon happened, the dark clouds seemed to sway away and Karthik saw the light. At least in white-ball format. His match-winning cameo in the final against Bangladesh made him the apple of everyone's eyes.
Karthik had earlier been deemed unfit for the role of quick scoring but his rise in the IPL in last few years and the final of Nidahas Trophy changed the way people looked at him. His 8-ball 29 established him as a finisher in the game.
He has consistently delivered match-winning knocks in IPL for KKR. Unlike yesteryears, Karthik now displays the ability to score quickly.
With speculations of Dhoni being in his last season of international cricket, there is someone needed to take over the role that he has been doing for years. And Karthik could be the best fit for the job.
Karthik can contribute handsomely in the lower middle-order. He scored 146 runs and averaged 49 in India's title-winning campaign in Asia Cup 2018.
He has become a regular presence in the T20I side of India. In the 1st T20I of the series against Australia, Karthik scored 30 of 13 but India lost due to the complex D/L method. Rain washed out the second game of the T20I series. He once again batted responsibly to score 22 of 18 and steered India to a victory in the third match.
In the ODI series, his partnership with Dhoni helped India win the Adelaide match. Karthik featured in just two ODIs on the following tour in New Zealand. He scored a handy 38 to steer India to a victory in the third ODI.
In the T20I series against New Zealand, his efforts were valiant in the third game. Although he scored a decent 16-ball 33 while chasing a humongous 212, he failed to win the game for India.
Karthik's value as utility and little too critical team selection
As selectors have not selected him for the series against Australia, the last series before the World Cup, Karthik's chances for the grand tournament are possibly reduced if not ended completely.
Karthik's statistics of recent years show significant improvement in him as a batsman. His ability to finish the games with ease reflects that he is no longer fickle and can be trusted with the job. His composure in the crucial moments is an asset for the team and can be of great help in times of crisis.
MS Dhoni is a mainstay in the team and holds a key position. Presently, the responsibility of finishing the games rests in the hands of his. But, it is no more hidden that Dhoni is losing his Midas touch and sometimes falters to finish games with ease as he used to. And, in the absence of Suresh Raina, Karthik can be his helping hand.
It is expected that Dhoni will hang up his boots after the World Cup 2019 and India would soon look to other options for filling the spot. Rishabh Pant is a promising talent and has proven his worth with Test hundreds in England and Australia in recent times.
However, Pant is still in his formative years and a sudden shift of responsibilities might not result fruitful. In this case, Karthik could be a great assistance and help to ensure a smooth transition. Moreover, if Pant gets to open the batting, Karthik can play as a proper middle-order batsman.
There is no doubt that the selectors have been little too critical on Karthik over the years. Even a slight dip in form has ousted him out of the team. His career has been always under the baptism of fire.
If his maturity and ability to finish games is not utilized now, India might regret missing his services in the future. Karthik still has a few more years left in his career and can contribute a lot to Indian cricket.Published 17 Feb 2019, 20:27 IST