Sandeep Patil, the India A coach, has revealed that he recommended Dinesh Karthik ahead of MS Dhoni when consulted by the national selection panel before they picked the squad for India's three one-day tournaments. Patil, speaking to Wisden Cricinfo from his Shivaji Park residence in Mumbai, believes that Karthik would make an ideal No. 6 for both Tests and one-dayers. But that's not all: Patil also unearths a medium-pacer who takes five-fors on flat decks, and an opener who scores big:
How would you compare Karthik and Dhoni?
I feel Dinesh Karthik is an ideal No. 6 batsman for Tests and one-dayers, and he is in the mould of Adam Gilchrist, Moin Khan and Romesh Kaluwitharana - who can win a match on his own. I can't say the same thing about the other Indian wicketkeepers in the recent past. If Karthik is given the same number of chances as Parthiv Patel, I will be proved right. I recommended Karthik to the selectors, but it was a very close call. Dhoni is also a safe wicketkeeper, and Dhoni produced two brilliant hundreds. Geoffrey Boycott wasn't impressed with Dhoni in the training camp at Bangalore, but I told him not to get discouraged since his style was unique.
Sairaj Bahutule was the star performer. But where do you see his career going from here on?
He is dead serious to play for India. In fact, he told me that "I will definitely play for India now." He led Mumbai last season, and suddenly he has taken the step that he has to do something extra to replace Anil Kumble. He got a chance when Kumble was injured - now he wants to replace Kumble when he is bowling well.
Who were the other players to catch your eye?
The two surprise packages of the tour were Dhoni and Dheeraj Jadhav [the opening batsman from Maharashtra who topped the batting charts last season]. I had heard that Jadhav was slow with his run-scoring, but he scored almost 160 in a day against Kenya. He smashed a hundred in a session the next day and finished on 260 not out. I wouldn't put him ahead of Aakash Chopra, but he poses a big threat.
And the bowlers?
Bahutule was fantastic, but Shib Shankar Paul was another surprise performer. He got five wickets consistently on really flat wickets in Harare. People say that players from weaker states make it to the side through the back door. But Paul proved that wrong with his performance.
Any disappointments at all?
Munaf Patel, the fast bowler from Mumbai, was a big disappointment. He developed a shoulder injury and I see it more of a mental problem than physical. The physio checked Munaf and said everything was OK. But he could not bowl and finish his spells. He played one-and-a-half matches in a one-and-a-half-month tour.
Do you think the quality of the reserve team is getting closer to that of the national team?
Last year, six players from the A team played for the senior team. This year, Karthik has played. This tells me that this concept is working out well. If any senior player has to be replaced, there is a ready substitute available.
What about the fitness standards of the players?
I would still say that they are more gym-fit than match-fit. There is no need of going to the gym after you score a 200 or take five wickets. They will be better off if the same energy can be used in a match to score a fifty or take three wickets.
What about your own future as a coach?
I get appointed only on a tour-to-tour basis. For the past one year, I have been asking BCCI to inform me in advance so that I can plan my own programme. But it is not happening. When India A played against New Zealand at Rajkot last year, the board secretary called me on the eve of the match and asked me to join the team. That is unfair.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo.