India v Pakistan, Asia Cup, Mirpur March 2, 2014

Karthik lets it slip again

Karthik Krishnaswamy in Mirpur
Dinesh Karthik has missed two important stumpings in two matches, and has lost his wicket at times when he could have helped India towards stronger totals

Before bowling the fourth ball of his eighth over against Pakistan, R Ashwin waved to his fielders at deep backward square leg and deep midwicket. With a sweep of his right arm, Ashwin indicated he wanted both of them to move a few steps to their right.

Ashwin, bowling around the wicket, had clearly set his field for the sweep. It was obvious to anyone watching that he was going to shift to a leg-stump line. Sohaib Maqsood knew this, and it looked like he wanted to upset Ashwin's calculations when he tried to squirt the next ball - quick, full, on leg stump - down the ground in a slightly inside-out manner. Ashwin moved alertly to his left and stopped the ball.

Next ball, Maqsood jumped down the track. He had started too early, though, and Ashwin sent down a carrom ball wide of leg stump. Maqsood tried to flick, missed, and was stranded yards down the pitch. Behind him, the ball bounced off Dinesh Karthik's gloves.

The field change should have alerted Karthik that he might soon need to collect the ball down the leg side. He should not have been surprised by the carrom ball either. Ashwin had taken his first wicket with that delivery, bowling Sharjeel Khan through the gate.

With the match situation thrown in the mix, Karthik's error looked even more glaring. Chasing 246, Pakistan were 168 for 4 in the 38th over. The partnership between Maqsood and Mohammad Hafeez had just gone past 50. They added another 32 and took Pakistan to 200 before Ashwin dismissed Hafeez. Pakistan won by one wicket, in the last over, and it took two sixes in two balls from Shahid Afridi to get them home.   

In India's previous match, Karthik had missed a stumping when Kumar Sangakkara was on 30. He went on to make 103 and win the match for Sri Lanka. It was one of a series of errors the fielders made, and Virat Kohli, India's captain, spoke after the game of the need to play smarter cricket.

A part of his concern had been directed at India's batting too. Against Sri Lanka, they had slumped from 175 for 3 to 215 for 7, and Karthik had played one of the needless shots that had brought them to that situation.

Against Pakistan, Karthik walked in to bat with India on 103 for 4 in the 24th over, having lost Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane in the span of five overs. This was a big test for India's new middle order. For a while, it looked as though they were passing it, with Ambati Rayudu busy at one end and Karthik hanging in at the other.

Their partnership had just crossed 50 when Karthik moved to sweep Hafeez from outside off stump. The ball landed well short of sweeping length, and Karthik changed his stroke to an uncertain lap. The ball bounced a little extra, took the top-edge, and nestled into the hands of short fine leg.

It was a soft dismissal, and it came at a bad time for India. Yes, it was the batting Powerplay, after India had already lost four wickets. Their priority at that stage must have been to reach the 40-over mark without losing another. Karthik was out for a 46-ball 23.

India's squad at the Asia Cup is full of inexperienced players, and a large part of this inexperience is concentrated in the middle order. Karthik isn't inexperienced. He made his international debut nearly a decade ago. He has played 70 ODIs, and 23 Tests for good measure.

Karthik has had the misfortune of being a wicketkeeper-batsman in the MS Dhoni era, and it's meant he has seldom had a long run in the side. But the selectors have valued his talent enough to pick him as a specialist batsman in 47 ODIs and seven Tests. They have valued it so much that he has batted in the top five in 42 of his one-day innings, and has opened the batting 20 times.

Despite this, Karthik has an average of 27.48, a strike-rate of 73.15, seven half-centuries and a highest score of 79. It's fair to say he has rarely grabbed his chances.

From September 2009 to August 2010, he made double-digit scores in 17 straight ODI innings but only made two half-centuries. All but two of those 17 innings came as opener or at No. 3. He was dropped after scoring 9, 0 and 0 in the three innings that followed, and didn't play an ODI for nearly three years.

Karthik returned to the side for the Champions Trophy last year, on the back of some heavy scoring in first-class cricket and in the IPL. He showed ominous form in the warm-up games, scoring two hundreds, but reverted to type when the competitive games began. Replacing Yuvraj Singh, he scored two half-centuries in 12 innings over the course of three ODI tournaments, and was dropped once again.

Dhoni's side strain gave Karthik another opportunity, but he has let it slip in the most literal way possible, in two successive matches. As Afridi's match-winning six soared into the Mirpur sky, Dhoni's IPL franchise, Chennai Super Kings, pressed the send button on a tweet.  

"Do you think we missed Dhoni today as a captain / keeper / finisher? #missuMahi," it said.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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