The Sad Case of Dinesh Karthik
Dinesh Karthik broke into the national cricket scene (after his heroics at the under-19 level) when he engineered a win for India in a T20 game against South Africa. Suddenly he was an all purpose cricketer. Before even he realized he was India’s opening batsmen in Tests despite the fact that he was never a regular opener even for his home state of Tamil Nadu! However, he had a good tour as opener in both against Bangladesh and England. But a poor series against Pakistan in India. Unfortunately for him, Rahul Dravid (who showed more faith in him than any other captain) suddenly stepped aside from both Test and ODIs.
A change in leadership in both forms of the game brought new challenges for the young man. In Tests Kumble did not have the same level of confidence in him as his predecessor. Kumble preferred a regular opener like Wasim Jaffer as first choice. Next, he preferred a wild card in Virender Sehwag. And as a third resort he preferred Irfan Pathan! Going by this, it is more than likely that if Sehwag or Jaffer were to fail, in all probability Kumble would prefer a regular opener such as Aakash Chopra or Gautam Gambhir. In short, Dinesh Karthik’s days as an opener are pretty much over. His only hope of playing Test cricket is if Dhoni were injured. Given the amount of cricket that Dhoni plays these days the likelihood of this possibility is pretty high.
The biggest piece of bad news is that India promoted someone to the Test opener level when they didn’t really belong there in the first place. Karthik is a classic utility cricketer (an amazing talent capable of adapting very well to pretty much any situation) suited to the ODI and T20 formats and to a lesser extent in Tests. He makes a good keeper and valuable lower order batsman in Tests at best.
The ODIs and T20s
Dinesh Karthik’s prospects in these forms of the game dimmed significantly with the rise of MS Dhoni. With Dhoni as captain a second wicket keeper getting a break in the playing eleven is next to impossible. Karthik got a chance in the T20 match in Australia in which he failed. With that his hopes of getting a break in the ODIs in Australia further vanished. When Yuvraj was injured Dhoni chose to experiment with a “fresh off the plane” Manoj Tiwari despite the fact that Karthik had been in Australia for over a month and had a lot more exposure to the conditions. Besides an in form Suresh Raina was still cooling his heals looking for a return to the ODI team.
In short, the only way Karthik can make it to the playing eleven in T20s or ODIs is if Dhoni were not playing. With Dhoni as captain, this scenario is highly unlikely unless he were injured. In this scenario, Karthik could soon find himself out of the T20 and/or ODI teams despite the fact that his skills are best suited to these forms of the game.
For the moment, Karthik’s best bet is to continue to perform at every stage both as a keeper and as a batsmen. His performance in the IPL for instance will be key for his future prospects despite the fact that it is of T20 format. The other possibility is that Dhoni himself and the Board might mutually decide to use Dhoni selectively in order to prolong his career and keep him injury free. In which case, Karthik should get the odd chance from time to time until another young keeper stakes his claim to the spot.