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June 20, 2013

The Karthik-Dhoni dynamic

Mahesh Sethuraman
Dinesh Karthik: finally tasting a period of success as a specialist batsman  © Getty Images
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India had lost the first two matches of the three-match ODI series against England in 2004. The third one was a dead rubber, and India chose to relieve Rahul Dravid of his wicketkeeping duties.

Dravid began playing as a regular wicketkeeper in the West Indies in 2002, in an experiment to lend the team a greater balance and the luxury to play seven batsmen. He kept the gloves in the 2003 World Cup, in which India finished as runners-up, and the decision seemed a worthwhile gamble. Just as they prepared to move on to find a more sustainable solution, a few setbacks forced India to go back to Dravid as keeper to beef up the batting again.

Dinesh Karthik made his debut for India in the NatWest dead rubber in 2004 and scored 1 off 12 balls. India were all out for 204 and had run through the England top order from one end, while Michael Vaughan was rock solid at the other. With Ashley Giles for company, Vaughan resurrected the innings from 62 for 6, before losing his partner at 154.

With the match hanging in the balance, Vaughan stepped out to a Harbhajan Singh delivery, bowled way down the leg side. The 19-year-old debutant keeper moved across swiftly, gathered the ball, and when he realised he was too far away to stump, dived full length to flick the bails off, with Vaughan stranded. Match sealed. So was the debate around playing a specialist keeper instead of Dravid, who kept in only two matches after that.

Except that MS Dhoni, not Karthik, took the gloves from Dravid eventually. Karthik made his debut on September 5, 2004 and played two ODIs that year, not batting in one. Dravid last played as a keeper on November 13, 2004. Dhoni made his one-day debut on December 23, 2004. If there was any noise about Karthik getting a raw deal, it was muted when Dhoni launched Shahid Afridi over extra cover on his way to a brilliant 148 in Visakhapatnam. The rest is history.

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India's players had a horrendous schedule in 2007-08. A three-Test series against Pakistan at home in November 2007, an Australia tour from December to March, followed immediately by a three-Test series against South Africa at home, a 44-day IPL, a tri-series in Bangladesh, and the Asia Cup in Pakistan. The schedule was so punishing that Dhoni vented his frustration in press conferences. The BCCI suggested tired players could opt for rest if they couldn't cope with the schedule. Dhoni chose to sit out the Test series in Sri Lanka in August 2008. At that point, he had one fifty in his last seven Tests and a solitary hundred from 29 Tests overall. Quite a bizarre and bold decision.

The selectors went back to Karthik. While Dhoni was a smashing success in ODIs, he wasn't quite indispensable in Tests yet. Also, Karthik was widely believed to be the better wicketkeeper. He also gave the team the option of a back-up opener. If he had paved the way for Dhoni to come into the ODI team earlier than Dhoni would otherwise have, this seemed like a kind of reversal of fortune.

But Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis demolished the Indian batting line-up, Karthik included, in the Tests. As if that wasn't bad enough, he had his worst series as keeper. India's captain, Anil Kumble, replaced Karthik with Parthiv Patel for the final Test, in Colombo, but Parthiv couldn't survive the Mendis magic either.

Dhoni came back for the ODIs that followed, took back his Test place against Australia at home and captained the team in Kumble's absence in the two matches that India won in that series. He took over the captaincy full-time when Kumble retired at the end of the series. The rest is history.

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It's another comeback for Karthik in the Champions Trophy, this time as a specialist batsman. Against Australia in the warm-up match, Karthik, who had made a century in the previous game, came in at 39 for 4, and was joined by Dhoni at 55 for 5. They put on a mammoth 211-run partnership in about 30 overs, with Karthik scoring a brilliant century.

For someone whose career slowed down every time he competed for Dhoni's spot, not chasing that spot may just be his best bet yet.

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When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, Mahesh Sethuraman works in a bank in India to pay his bills. He tweets here

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Posted by Viv-Viru on (June 22, 2013, 0:38 GMT)

Wonderful background and history. If selectors let Karthik keep wickets then we will have another all rounder in Dhoni, joining Jadeja.

Posted by jimbond on (June 21, 2013, 7:26 GMT)

Lets hope the selectors dont bring back Karthik into the test team based on his T20 and ODI performances. Karthik is a tried, tested and failed talent in test cricket. While Rohit Sharma is similarly a failed talent in ODIs (this may be his last chance), he has a good enough first class record to be given at least a chance in tests. I would suggest that both Rohit Sharma and Badrinath (also Rahane be given another chance in tests) before testing out discards like Karthik.

Posted by MaruthuDelft on (June 21, 2013, 3:00 GMT)

Karthik gave confidence to India in this Champion's trophy. Unfortunately he hasn't got a chance to post a big score. He gets it in the Final. In the Final Rohit Sharma (Rohit is not actually good) and Dhawan (run scoring fatigue) would be out for single figures.

Posted by bharatratna on (June 20, 2013, 15:03 GMT)

One particular match to remember with regard to these two players is this one: http://www.espncricinfo.com/bdeshvind/engine/current/match/282688.html

It was the first match after the WC-07 debacle and Bangladesh were at it again, reducing India to 112/4 after 20 overs. Karthik and Dhoni battled out the May heat and the spin to ensure India's victory was a formality. In the absence of proven batting ability, Karthik has always found it difficult to make his way though to the team. That his MI stint has given him the opportunity this time is but a testament to his skills and perseverance.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 14:18 GMT)

This is yet another example of that talent is a waste without proper temperament. Temperament wise Dhoni has always been light years ahead of the likes of DK who may be more talented. Plus over the years he has worked hard on his batting and keeping. Today standing up to the stumps on turning tracks, there is no keeper who even comes near Dhoni. Similarly, he is also probably the most complete ODI batsman ever. Plus he has also been extremely consistent in tests. Add to this his captaincy and you have a modern day great. Time the likes of DK learnt from Dhoni.

Posted by scripted on (June 20, 2013, 13:09 GMT)

@siddhartha: At times, there's too much emphasis on 'classy' in Indian cricket. Gambhir has been inconsistent recently, Karthik has been in great touch. The player in better form deserves to play.

Posted by AnyoneButVettel on (June 20, 2013, 12:51 GMT)

The suggestion that Parthiv Patel is the best of the 3 is outright hilarious. There are no memorable wins that come to mind where Parthiv made a significant contribution. The best 2 playing in Cardiff today could easily get into the team on batting alone and are both just as good and very likely better at wicket-keeping than Parthiv. Sorry Patel has no place on the Indian team. Wish SRH could buy a better Indian batsman ... both Sanga and De Kock can keep and one of them is certain to play.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2013, 10:07 GMT)

How the days change! Once Indian batsman had to take the role of Wicket keeper, but now Genuine WK are taking the role of Batsman.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mahesh Sethuraman
Mahesh aspired to be India's answer to Michael Holding. That aspiration still lingers, 15 years hence. IPL franchises looking to make a millionaire out of an innocuous bowler as part of their corporate social responsibility may reach him @cornerd. When he's not watching / talking / tweeting / reading cricket, he works in a bank in India to pay his bills.

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