Australia in India 2013-14 September 30, 2013

Replacement man gets replaced

Dinesh Karthik has often done well when covering for specialists but not well enough to become a regular in the team

During the Asia Cup in Dambulla in 2010, Virender Sehwag was ruled out with a hamstring injury on June 21. The same evening, Dinesh Karthik, a replacement flown in from India, was in the nets, and playing an international on June 22. One of his team-mates welcomed him thus: "Sachhi sachhi bata, tu Colombo mein hi tha na? (Tell us the truth, you were in Colombo, right?)" The joke being that Karthik had turned up at such short notice, and that he had become so accustomed to turning up as a replacement in such a manner, that it felt that he was almost shadowing the team.

Who knows he might have been? For Karthik is the specialist replacement man of Indian cricket. For whenever somebody gets injured, you call Karthik. Opener down? Go for DK. Middle-order batsman gone? Go for DK. Wicketkeeper resting? DK's there. Test opener out of form on green tracks? Worry not, there's DK. In ODIs, Karthik has replaced all sorts of people, and has batted at all positions from 1 to 7. Who knows he might have learned bowling too? Who knows he might even have been able to fill in for N Srinivasan?

Karthik is easy to like. He is energetic on the field. He doesn't mind making sacrifices as long he is part of the team. He doesn't tell the team that a certain position is his preference. He doesn't mind giving up wicketkeeping and fielding anywhere: in the deep, inside the circle, under the helmet. And he hasn't been that bad a replacement either. The problem, though, is he hasn't been able to graduate from being the specialist replacement man. He does well when called up in difficult circumstances, but then doesn't do enough to hand that band over to someone else.

And then you feel bad for him. As you do today, after he lost out to Yuvraj Singh and Ambati Rayudu in the squad for the T20 and first three ODIs against Australia. To make it worse, it isn't even the kind of selection that you can point out as obviously wrong or unfair. You can imagine even the selectors would have felt bad making this call. In the Champions Trophy in England and in the ODIs in Zimbabwe, he did well in the limited opportunities he got: 169 runs in 203 balls in 10 matches, at an average of 56.33.

It was when he got unlimited opportunities to bat, in the tri-series in the West Indies, that he failed, which is possibly why Rayudu has been preferred after both performed similarly in the Zimbabwe series. Possibly it was Karthik's poor performance on an even easier assignment, against South Africa A, that did it. Possibly Karthik has grown too used to the uncertainty that being a replacement player brings, and finds himself lost when it comes to carving out a permanent role for himself.

After he had put that ribbing - not entirely in good humour - out of the way in Dambulla, Karthik rattled off 40 in his first match and then a Man-of-the-Match 66 in the final. He has probably made bigger sacrifices in Test cricket, chipping in as a replacement opener for both injured and out-of-form stars. His best came in England in 2007 when he consistently gave India good starts along with Wasim Jaffer. It was India's first series win in England in 21 years.

Karthik averages 47 as an opener outside India, in four Tests played in England and South Africa. All those four Tests came around 2007, but then he failed to fill up his boots in the best conditions to open an innings in - the subcontinent. Then he lost out to an inspired selection, that of Virender Sehwag for the tour of Australia. The next time he replaced somebody in a Test was when MS Dhoni decided to sit out the tour of Sri Lanka in 2008. And when he failed against Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, along with some of the greatest batsmen India has ever produced, his Test career was all but over.

Therein lies a lesson, especially for Test openers who think hundreds don't matter, contribution to wins does. Karthik has been making crucial contributions, but he hadn't done enough when the going was good. He had plucky thirties and fifties, but not enough big hundreds. He can look around and point to a few others who have got longer ropes with similar results, but he will also know he has himself come short.

For one, as a wicketkeeper, Karthik made too many mistakes, and lost his Test replacement duties to the more correct Wriddhiman Saha. Technically perhaps, Dhoni is not a much better wicketkeeper, and Karthik the Test batsman might be just as good, but Dhoni cuts out the glaring mistakes with the big gloves on and scores the big hundreds when he has it going for him.

The case with his ODI replacement - either Yuvraj or Rayudu - is the same. The selectors possibly see Rayudu as a purer batsman who will deliver those big innings. Karthik is not out of the picture yet. He is only 28, he is fit, and hardly goes a domestic season when he doesn't score big runs. It is entirely possible he will be called up should someone get injured in this series. It is possible he will be more at home then. And his team-mates will wonder if he was already in the city hosting the match, on the off chance someone needs to be replaced.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Imran on October 7, 2013, 14:22 GMT

    This line is just too darn hilarious "Who knows he might have learned bowling too? Who knows he might even have been able to fill in for N Srinivasan? "

  • Dummy4 on October 7, 2013, 12:12 GMT

    Indian selection committee is not the Australian selection committee to build up the best team. What was India's record before the Champion Trophy in England, with Dhonies, Rainas, yuvis.etc. England and Pakistan thrashed India in its home soil. We have talents available in India but they are not utilized. Jai Ho!

  • Ramesh on October 3, 2013, 17:40 GMT

    A Fit and in Form "yuvi" is a danger to opposition players any day... Now aparantly he is danger to his team mates too.... Win-Win for TEAM INDIA...

  • Dummy4 on October 2, 2013, 1:48 GMT

    When it comes to wicket-keeping, Dhoni truly is destiny's child. The guy drops his fair share of chances but somehow or the other, the missed chances rarely hurt the team big. Most probably, either the batsman will soon get out later or will play extremely slowly and derail the momentum of the innings. If not, India will somehow still end up winning (may be with a Dhoni special last-over finish) so that, at the end of the day, the win makes the headlines as opposed to the drop. Next time - watch out for a Dhoni drop. I always assume that the batsman is now just living on borrowed time.

  • Dummy4 on October 1, 2013, 19:53 GMT

    Understandable selection, Karthik was at best a 50-50 selection for this series, and unfortunately he has found himself at the wrong side of it. But he has only himself to blame, has been very inconsistent with both bat and gloves throughout his comeback effort right from the CT all the way to the Zimbabwe series. Think he did get a decent run of games in this period, and he couldn't find the kind of consistency needed of a number 4 batsman. Besides, Yuvraj has improved his fitness, and he has found some form as well, a fit and on form Yuvraj has to be one of the first names on the teamsheet and he has earned his recall, though it remains to be seen whether he'll be able to transform his performance levels to the international realm, but the selectors are absolutely right in giving him the chance. Dhawan, Kohli, Dhoni and Jadeja pick themselves, Rohit Sharma has been showing some promising signs at the top of the order, and Raina offers a nice package as an ODI player

  • Dummy4 on October 1, 2013, 16:56 GMT

    I think its a happy problem for selectors. But still DK deserves another chance may be instead of Rayudu. However satisfied with the bowling selection..One may argye for Vinay Kumar.. But I think he is the only exp bowler we have right now given that Ishant is not consistent.. And given his fitness level (If anybody saw the run out of Kohlo in challengers final), he deserves this place..

  • Sandip on October 1, 2013, 15:37 GMT

    @Sharat Ojha

    It explores funny comment that someone representing the Mumbai zone are selected in the team. The remote control is in hands of the zone from where DK represents. Don't put biased views on this forum. Rayudu plays for Baroda not mumbai. You are misleading facts with franchise cricket. Rohit Sharma, Raina, Rayudu have been in good touch & nobody can raise question against these except yourself. This is one of the best selection panel who had done beyond zonal selection criteria and they should be applauded for their work as we got the results in last few months. Putting malicious views should be avoided as far as possible.

    @ Sir_Ivor

    Well, the most commendable views you have written here. Excellent summing of DK. He can make sure comeback as Yuvi. just little work needed for him.

  • ESPN on October 1, 2013, 12:37 GMT

    S Raina should be replaced of he isn't already he has not done anything in odi in the past 2 years but keeps on getting picked for what he must be doing something of the field that is important to the team ? For him to be keep getting picked he can't perform under pressure SR should be replaced befor DK

  • Subramani on October 1, 2013, 11:18 GMT

    There are so many wicket keeper batsmen,really young and good that Dinesh Karthik should be really making his case on the basis of his batting only.In fact he should notbe donning the big gloves at all unless there is an emergency.Karthik is one of the soundest opening batsmen I have seen from India.Whenever he has opened he has batted well whether it was on the bouncy wickets of South Africa or on the seaming conditions in England.That is because he has very good technique of either foot, is courageous and has all the strokes. That apart he has the patience needed of an opener.If he has been dropped or rested for the ODIs against Australia I am not unhappy because he is more of a classical format player.I am sure that there will be some failures in these 7 games.South Africa looms and Karthik will be the man they will take in. Possibly in place of Vijay who simply does'nt have it in him to succeed on South African wickets notwithstanding how well he played in the IPL there years ago.

  • Dummy4 on October 1, 2013, 10:57 GMT

    common dinesh still there is lot of time on your back ,dont get frustrated hope fortune things may happen all the best for your ranji trophy ,come back with the bang for the national colors