Cricket in India has many superlatives. Some call it a religion, some fanaticism, and some addiction. You can pick your own superlative, for it wouldn’t bother you an inch, but it means the world to those representing the nation in the blue and white jerseys.
The story is all too familiar for a 19-year old lad from Tamil Nadu named Dinesh Karthik. He burst on to the scene when India were desperately looking for a wicketkeeper-batsman, and had tried and tested a number of them. Karthik made his ODI debut in September 2004, and his Test debut followed a couple of months later. However, a certain MS Dhoni made his ODI debut in December 2005. From thereon, it was always going to be difficult for Karthik to break into the national side. That being said, his commitment to cricket has always been palpable.
In the Pursuit of Happiness
For more than a decade he was in and out of the team, sometimes not getting picked at all. Karthik didn’t play a Test match from 22 January 2010 to 14 June 2018. Meanwhile, scoring runs in the domestic circuit and the Indian Premier League became his routine. But Karthik’s career took a U-turn this year.
India was staring at a defeat at the hands of Bangladesh in the Nidahas Trophy final in March. Karthik rose to the occasion as he clobbered an 8-ball 29, including a last-ball six, in an intense pressure situation to help his team clinch the trophy. He became the toast of the nation. Many thought it was his revival, some attributed his success to ‘karma’.
Karthik was celebrated as if a schoolboy had broken into the national team. More adulation followed. He was subsequently chosen as the captain of the highly-acclaimed Kolkata Knight Riders franchise in the Indian Premier League, and he led his team to the play-offs.
This newfound success continued as he was selected for the one-off Test against Afghanistan in the absence of Wriddhiman Saha, who was out injured. Karthik had finally emerged out of the shadows and the spotlight was back. If only he knew it was momentary.
Falling Out of Favour
Next came the tour of England, which was supposed to be a heavy and critical assignment, with a young Rishabh Pant breathing down Karthik's neck. This is where he lost the plot, in swinging conditions, and the management put him on the carrier back home. He was axed for the remainder of the series, and in all probability, is unlikely to make it to the tour Down Under in November.
It won’t perhaps be wrong to say that those eight deliveries (Nidahas Trophy final) made Karthik a hero, gave him the attention that he never got in his decade of play. It may be an irony that although Karthik couldn’t ride his luck long term, an unexpected blitzkrieg made him a household name. Still, the downfall seemed inevitable.
The Road Ahead
The Test format may be over for Karthik. The ODI setup doesn’t allow him the luxury of dreaming big either, and a possibility of making it to the playing eleven in a T20I looks bleak. A glimmer of hope is what might keep him going.
India play the World Cup next year, and surely, Karthik doesn’t top the long chain of middle-order candidates. A few 30+ scores in the recently-concluded Asia Cup aren’t likely to make his case strong. If an extra wicket-keeper is to be added in the squad, it’s likely to be Pant, given the management’s decision to invest in youth. His chances of making it to the World Cup hang in balance as of now, although far from over.
A stop-start career could never really reflect Karthik’s true potential. Though never a quintessential player, 26 Tests, 86 ODIs, and 21 T20s don’t shed enough light on his credentials as an international player.
Was it in his destiny that he couldn’t be consistent performer? Or is it justification enough to blame the wicket-keeping era he was born in? Unfortunately, when he hangs up his boots likely in a few years, he won’t be able to boast of stability and consistency as his primary skills.
Karthik hasn’t done anything wrong; he hasn’t set the hearts racing either. Have we already seen the last of him or is there another blitzkrieg waiting to happen?
(Saumin Parmar is a Mumbai-based sports writer and producer. He is also a club-level cricketer who is busy practicing his skills when not writing. He can be reached at @RightArmOver1.)
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