Eight years ago, when Dinesh Karthik last played a Test, against Bangladesh in Chittagong, Virender Sehwag led India in MS Dhoni’s absence. Karthik, playing for the injured skipper, scored 0 and 27 and accounted for four dismissals in India’s 113-run victory. Going into the one-off Test against Afghanistan commencing Thursday, Ishant Sharma remains the sole survivor from that team. Karthik’s recall has just doubled the number.
Wriddhiman Saha’s thumb injury has allowed the Tamil Nadu ‘keeper-batsman to make his sixth comeback to the Test team in an international career that started in September 2004. But this is practically a second wind, given an upsurge in his shorter-format form.
A match-winning eight-ball 29 not out in the Nidahas Trophy final in Sri Lanka three months ago proved to be the catalyst. He was also appointed KKR captain for the 2018 season. A wonderful IPL, during which he scored 498 runs in 16 matches and guided Kolkata to the playoffs, has propelled him back into red-ball international cricket. The IPL took youngsters like Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya to the Test arena. Now it has provided 33-year-old Karthik a route back to the long form.
For close to 10 years, the Indian wicketkeeping slot across formats thrived on MS Dhoni’s ‘ownership’. Saha played the waiting game to perfection. The likes of Karthik and Parthiv Patel – Saha’s understudy in South Africa earlier this year – took their feet off the pedal. Karthik admitted his form slump. “I guess I didn’t perform well enough before. I wasn’t consistent enough. There was a highly competitive environment. MS Dhoni was breathing down my neck… I think I need to be honest with myself. I think I wasn’t as good then. I have another opportunity now and I guess I will try to do my best,” Karthik told reporters here on Tuesday.
At the same time, he reminded everyone about who he had been up against. “He (Dhoni) has gone on to become probably one of the greatest Test cricket captains India has ever produced. So, it’s not that I lost out my place to some normal cricketer. He has been a special cricketer over a period of time and I respect him for that.”
His wobbly batting notwithstanding, Saha remains the Indian team management’s first-choice ‘keeper. But with the Test series in England barely a month away, this fortuitous opportunity and a good performance against Afghanistan might just alter the pecking order. Karthik refused to be drawn into the competition.
“I think if you go deep into that question and figure out what I can do to keep someone out, then you’re taking energy away from the fact that you are competing with somebody. That puts a little bit of extra pressure than what is already there. They keep saying do your processes, and things will follow, so I’m just doing what I think is right. If I now go and try to think about how I can keep my place and keep someone else out, it becomes very subjective, I need to score, here, there. I don’t want to keep it that way. I just want to make the best of the opportunities I get.”