There was once a time in Indian Cricket, and a long one, where the national team was struggling to get a good wicket-keeper who was also a reliable batsman to match the standards set by top cricketing nations of the world. The likes of Adam Gilchrist and Mark Boucher were ruling the roast of keeper-batsmen and had set high standards at the international level.
The problem for a genuine keeper started for India around the year 2000. After Nayan Mongia, who played Test Cricket for seven years and played his last international match in 2001, the selectors went in search for one.
From 1999 to 2002, in just the space of 4 years, India had played seven different wicket-keepers in their Test side and eight in their ODI in the Sourav Ganguly-era. None of them were able to cling on to their places in the side. The desperation of a good keeper-cum-batsman was so much that even the great Rahul Dravid had to keep wickets for the Indian Team in 73 ODIs from 1999 to 2004.
The Indian National team had an all-time great line up of batsmen in both formats, but the major cause of concern was the keeper's slot.
In 2002, the flare changed. Suddenly, the selectors had a number of young and talented keepers at their disposal who showed great signs of succeeding at the international level. The selectors started with a baby-faced 17-year-old, then another 19-year-old in 2004, both showing great promise only to be dropped for a loss of form. Finally, a 22-year-old long-haired player entered the arena and stamped a long-term authority on that position in the Indian Cricket Team across formats.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni started his career as yet another WK-batsman who amazed everyone at the domestic level. He was going to get dropped very very early from the international side after very few chances until destiny struck, and the face of Indian Cricket changed forever.
After a string of failures in his first 4 matches, Dhoni got a chance up the order, making an impact immediately. The muscular and broad Ranchi guy smashed his way to an amazing 148 against Pakistan in an ODI, and there was no looking back since.
He confirmed his first century wasn't a fluke either after he butchered the Sri Lankan attack in 2005 making 183* in Jaipur in a run chase of 300. The Sri Lankan attack was hit by an unmatched physical power and taken to the cleaners by someone who had announced his arrival at the international stage in grand style.
Dhoni became consistent with the bat and was always a good keeper, and in the coming months, he managed to play the role of 4 different players alone. Hard-Hitter, finisher, wicket-keeper, and most importantly, 'Captain Cool' of the Indian Cricket Team (since 2007).
He established himself as one of the best ODI batsmen in the world and a dangerous finisher, and after gaining success as the captain in the 2007 T20 World Cup and in Tests and ODIs in 2008, there was no chance for any other wicket-keeper to break throughin the team in any format, unless Dhoni was rested or injured.
The summit of Dhonis career was, undoubtedly, the night of the World Cup final on 2nd April 2011 at a blue-bleeding Wankhede stadium.
For the next decade and a half, he managed to sideline brilliant Indian keepers who could have been world-class batsmen. Dhoni's international legacy was legendary enough to keep the careers of five Indian players in the dark since 2004, till his Test retirement in 2014 and the frequent rest he is given in limited overs these days. S
Still an integral part of the side and an important player for India in the 2019 World Cup campaign in India, Dhoni has enjoyed a career which had everything, from 3 ICC Trophies as a captain to 10,000 runs in ODI Cricket, from the highest number of wins as an Indian Test Captain, to becoming the No.1 side in Tests and ODI formats.
The former Indian skipper also faced dark days and high criticism, especially after India underwent emphatic Test losses in overseas conditions, as well as with his loss of form over the past few months.
Here are the 5 highly unlucky Indian Wicket-Keepers who were born in the wrong era to get denied extensive careers, which can now be termed as 'what-could-have-been' for them.
#1 Wriddhiman Saha
Highly lauded by the experts and critics for his amazing acrobats and skills with the gloves, Saha was probably the least known among the Indian audience as he waited for his turn.
This was mainly because of his not-so-extravagant batting. Nevertheless, he did enjoy a much better Test career than his 'out-of-the-team-because-of-MSD' colleagues.
Sidelined because of Captain Cool's dominance early on, Saha received a surprise Test call-up in 2010 for a home series against the South Africans. The wicket-keeper debuted in that series and showed resilience, but was back to warming the benches thereafter and was a regular reserve-keeper for the Indian team.
Mediocre seasons followed him but his exploits in the IPL final in 2014, where the Bengal keeper, playing for Kings XI Punjab, became the first Indian to score a century in the IPL final, brought him into the limelight on the limited-overs front. He continued to impress the selectors with his skilful wicket-keeping.
In December 2014 when MS Dhoni announced a surprise Test retirement during the Australian tour, Saha was handed his role and has been the constant behind the wickets for the Indian Test team ever since. He has played some valuable knocks in his young 32-Test career till now and continues to be India's first choice keeper.
Unfortunately, 2018 has been an injury-laden year for him and is currently out of the squad as India prepares for their Australian Test series.
ODI Stats: Debut: 2010 vs NZ || Matches: 09 || Runs: 41.
IPL Stats: Matches: 115 || Runs: 1679.
TEST Stats: Debut: 2010 vs SA || Matches: 32 || Runs: 1164 || 100s: 3.
#2 Parthiv Patel
Those saw Parthiv Patel on their TV screens on 8th August 2002 without knowing his actual age would have thought that India must have created the record of playing the youngest cricketer ever.
The then 17-year-old Patel looked younger than 15 with his baby face when he made his Test debut against England at Trent Bridge.
Parthiv started on a promising note with both bat and the gloves and played many commendable innings overseas till the Pakistan tour of 2004. However, he was dropped later as because of his slapdash glove-work in the subsequent series. Other options like Dinesh Karthik were tried in place of him before Dhoni became a mainstay in the side for the next decade.
Patel made a comeback to the national side in 2008 but was dropped once again and was an irregular in the squad as a backup keeper. He got his chances when a specialist batsman was injured/rested or when Dhoni did not play a particular series. However, he could not cement his place in the side.
However, Parthiv was never off the selectors' radar because of stellar performances in the domestic arena.
In the IPL, Parthiv Patel has played for a lot of franchises and has almost always opened for them, enjoying a good career in the domestic league.
Patel was the first to be selected to play for India among in these list players, but opportunities didn't follow him even after Dhoni's retirement in 2014, as Saha was chosen ahead of the Gujarat batsman.
Patel got chances against England in 2016 at home and in 2018 in South Africa and showed with his decent performances that he still has what it takes. He is named in the 18-member Test squad to face Aussies in December 2018, but once again, as a backup keeper to Pant, who was just 4 Patel made his debut back all those years ago. Wow!
ODI Record: Debut: 2003 vs NZ || Matches: 38 || Runs: 736. //
T20I Record: Debut: 2011 vs Windies || Matches: 02 || Runs: 36. //
IPL Record: Matches: 125 || Runs: 2475.
TEST Record: Debut: 2002 vs England || Matches: 25 || Runs: 934.
#3 Robin Uthappa
"Walks down the pitch and smashes the pacer for a huge six!" - A frequent piece of commentary when Robin Uthappa bats in full flow.
Uthappa was a special player who wasn't afraid of playing his shots. A batsman who could keep, Uthappa's career did not take of because of two exceptional players – Dhoni took his chance of playing as a keeper and young Virat Kohli replaced him as a reliable middle-order batsman.
It was just impossible for any batsman to break-in and play at any position at that time, because the Indian lineup was filled with either by stalwarts of the game or by youngsters with immense talent.
Uthappa debuted in 2006 in ODIs and was a consistent player in the team till the 2007 World T20, where he was an integral part of India's successful campaign. He faded away due to poor form in 2008 and was never brought back for six years till his glorious form in IPL 2014, where he became the orange-cap holder and broke several records with KKR, thereby forcing the selectors to recall him to the national unit.
However, it could never stick, and he had to go back to the domestic circuit. Now, at 33, chances look bleak for Uthappa, as he has starts punditry on the sides.
ODI Record: Debut: 2006 vs England || Matches: 46 || Runs: 934. || Last Played: 2015 vs Zim. //
T20I Record: Debut: 2007 vs Scotland || Matches: 13 || Runs: 249 || Last Played: 2015 v Zim.
IPL Record: Matches: 165 || Runs: 4129 || (MI, RCB, PWI, and KKR)
#4 Dinesh Karthik
Let's go back a few months to the Nidahas Trophy Final – India needed five runs off the final delivery and an Indian WK-batsman finished the game with a six – a recurring concept for Indian fans, but this time, the batsman was not Dhoni.
A knock of 29 runs in 8 balls from a certain batsman turned the game on its head.
Today, in December of 2018, if you ask an ardent Indian Cricket fan whom will he pick as the limited overs' keeper in the absence of Dhoni, the answer, ahead of Pant, will be plain and simple – Dinesh Karthik.
The right-hander was one of the most dominant of choices as the second keeper for India over the years, DK, as he's popularly referred to, has finally gained the limelight he believe think he deserved earlier in his career.
Having made his international debut before MSD and after an under-prepared Parthiv Patel, a very young Karthik quickly impressed with his cricketing skills. However, he too became shoddy over time and lost his place in the side. Then came Dhoni, and the rest is history.
In the 2007 England Test series, Karthik came back as a specialist batsman, slamming the most number of runs for India as they lifted the trophy. This was the peak of his career before another milestone was reached in 2018, where he reestablished himself as a reliable finisher for India. He also had an amazing campaign with KKR as their captain last year, but a forgettable Test series in England as India's keeper in the first couple of Tests. A full circle indeed!
ODI Record: Debut: 2004 vs Eng, Lord's || M: 86 || Runs: 1663.
T20I Record: Debut: 2006 vs SA || M: 27 || Runs: 352.
Test Record: Debut: 2004 vs Aus || M: 26 || Runs: 1025.
IPL Record: Matches: 168 || Runs: 3401. (DD, KXIP, MI, GL, RCB, KKR*)
#5 Naman Ojha
There are unlucky players, there are very unlucky players, and then comes this player from Madhya Pradesh, Naman Ojha. Once considered for selection way back in 2004, the fluent stroke-player got a chance to play in Indian colours in ODIs in 2010. That's was all, his ODI dream could last just for a day.
Ojha always showed the promise to succeed through his domestic performances through the years. He even proved his attacking game by playing some good knocks in the IPL during his hay days.
His best time with the bat probably came in the 2013-14 season where he scored runs with great consistency and had a successful tour of Australia with the India A unit. This earned him a spot in the Test side in 2015 when Saha was injured against Sri Lanka. However, his Test career lasted for just a solitary match too.
Having made his domestic debut in 2000-01, he was another one of those players who was sidelined due to Dhoni. Now with Ojha at 35 and with Dinesh Karthik doing well in limited overs and Rishabh Pant ready to pad-up after Dhoni and Saha's Test exit, Ojha's international career is all but done and dusted.
These stats will reflect how he struggled in the Dhoni-era for a place in the Indian side:
ODI Record: Debut: 2010 vs Sri Lanka || Career Matches: 01 || Career Runs: 01. //
T20I Record: Debut: 2010 vs Zimbabwe || Career Matches: 02 || Career Runs: 12. //
Test Record: Debut: 2015 vs SL || Career Matches: 01 || Career Runs: 56.
IPL Record: Matches:113 || Runs: 1554 || Highest: 94. (Teams: RR, DD, and SRH)
Interesting fact: Naman Ojha, while playing his 100th First-Class match, against Australia A for India A in Brisbane in 2014, scored 219* in the first innings and 122 in the second innings.