The usage of the term ‘historic’ has grown exponentially since it was confirmed that Afghanistan would play India in their maiden Test. Nearly everything surrounding the five-day affair, set to kick off at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Thursday (June 14), has the word attached to it now, and perhaps fittingly so.
But while Afghanistan have drawn eyeballs as a result, Dinesh Karthik, who himself is on a ‘historic’ route, has quietly slipped back into the Indian Test side without much fuss.
While a few fans who were allowed to view practice sessions prior to the one-off Test clamoured for autographs from other members of the Indian team, not many bothered Karthik, and Karthik doesn’t seem too bothered either. Away from the crowd, his sessions are borderline marathons, and when you add his fidgety routine, it’s a wonder how he has such energy at 33. Still, this sweaty figure has a calm to him. It feels atypical. A trait, he claimed earlier, acquired with the experience of having seen aplenty.
It is one thing to reach the pinnacle of Indian cricket and experience everything the platform has to offer for a significant period of time. It’s a whole other thing to make it to the top and then spiral out of public consciousness for eight years.
Yes, eight years. That’s how long it has been since Karthik donned the whites for India. Why, you ask?
One, he didn’t have the numbers to stake his claim. Two, perhaps the more accurate reason for Karthik’s ouster, MS Dhoni’s rise. Three, Parthiv Patel and Wriddhiman Saha were ready to take over from Dhoni.
After a century against Bangladesh and a couple of stellar knocks in India’s series win over England, all in 2007, Karthik’s numbers faded, and coincidentally Dhoni’s numbers were steadily on the rise. That Dhoni guided India to the World T20 title that same year surely had a part to play in the decision to give the man from Jharkhand preference, though by then, Dhoni had already cemented his Test spot too.
“I guess I did not perform well enough before,” offered Karthik matter-of-factly, on Tuesday evening. “I wasn’t consistent enough. It was a highly competitive environment. MS Dhoni was breathing down my neck and he was causing a lot of stir in world cricket at that point.
“He has gone on to become probably one of the greatest Test cricket captains India has ever produced. So, it’s not that I lost out my place to some normal cricketer. He has been a special cricketer over a period of time and I respect him for that. It’s just that I couldn’t produce enough performances to hold on to my place. I think I need to be honest with myself. I think I wasn’t as good then.”
Even after Dhoni’s retirement in 2014, India went ahead with Saha and experimented shortly with Parthiv with some success, but an injury to Saha and a slip in Parthiv’s numbers saw Karthik finally earn another Test call up.
While two factors, three if Dhoni’s retirement can be included, took shape to facilitate Karthik’s return, no one can sweep his achievements over the last year under the rug. The Tamil Nadu man has always been good at the domestic level (averaging over 50 over the last two years), but it was his 8-ball 29 not out in the final of the Nidahas Trophy against Sri Lanka which gave voice to a talent that was all but forgotten. Then came a super consistent performance in the Indian Premier League, where he finished with 498 runs at an average of 49.80 as the skipper of Kolkata Knight Riders.
And yet, there was the Saha hurdle to cross. ‘Fortune favours…’
“If I think about what I can do to keep someone out, then I’m taking energy away from the fact that I’m competing with somebody,” offered Karthik when asked about what he needed to do to become the first-choice wicketkeeper.
“That puts a little bit of extra pressure. What I’m looking to do, as clichéd as it sounds, is to be the best cricketer I can be, not only on the field but off the field. I’m trying to be consistent there, where even if I don’t get the opportunity, even if I don’t end up playing at the highest level, I want to be content with the fact that I’ve given it everything.
“They keep saying do your processes, and things will follow, so I’m just doing what I think is right. If I now go and try to think about how I can keep my place and keep someone else out, it becomes very subjective, I need to score, here, there. I don’t want to keep it that way. I just want to make the best of the opportunities I get,” he said.
Saha is still India’s first-choice ’keeper for the upcoming tour of England so Karthik, unless something untoward happens between now and August, should be the replacement. Karthik seems to be doing a pretty good job of handling the anxiety of what the future might hold, but it isn’t easy to put the past, especially one filled with such adversity, behind. Karthik reminisced, but there was no bitterness in delivery, only a show of humility and of lessons learnt.
“Playing Test cricket is the ultimate challenge for any cricketer,” he offered. “I’ve always enjoyed playing the sport, so motivation has never been a problem. A lot of credit goes to the Tamil Nadu team for putting up with me for so many years and through all the tough times. If it wasn’t for their backing I wouldn’t have returned. It’s very easy to fade away in the world of cricket. I am just very grateful to them.”
Karthik’s story is yet another reminder that good things come to those who wait.