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India have enough options to replace Dhoni if he forsakes one format at the end of 2013

India have enough options to replace Dhoni if he forsakes one format at the end of 2013

From left: CM Gautam, Parthiv Patel, Wriddhiman Saha, Dinesh Karthik  and Naman Ojha © Getty Images & AFP

Nishad Pai Vaidya looks at the batting performances of some of the wicket-keepers in the ongoing Ranji Trophy.

In the early 2000s, Sourav Ganguly started building a side that eyed world glory. A major part of his plan was finding a stable wicket-keeping option – one who would not only do the job with the gloves, but would also contribute with the bat. A number of men arrived and left without establishing themselves in the long run. Rahul Dravid – the quintessential team-man – had to don the gloves in one-day cricket to provide balance to the side. Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s emergence in 2004-05 put those concerns at rest and India’s long search for a keeper-batsman ended.

Dhoni’s rise to the highest level is phenomenal in every way. Little did one imagine that he would go on to become the captain of India. In 2000, it would have been hard to digest the fact that the wicket-keeper’s spot in the side would be unquestionable at some point in time. While Dhoni may not be the best ‘keeper in the world, he certainly does a clean job – stable, if not spectacular.

India can take heart from the fact that they have enough options to back Dhoni up.

In modern cricket, ‘keepers are expected to contribute with the bat as well and a number of them have shown that they can wield the willow during the ongoing domestic season.

Two wicket-keepers the leading run scorers in the Ranji Trophy 2012-13 so far

If one looks at the leading run-scorers in the ongoing Ranji Trophy, one would find two wicket-keepers right up there. Muralidharen Gautam, the Karnataka stumper and Parthiv Patel lead the charts this season and have been very prolific with the bat.

Here are their numbers in the ongoing domestic season:

Player M Runs    Avg 100s 50s Highest
CM Gautam 8 938 134.00    3   2    264*
Parthiv Patel 8 895   68.84    3   6    162

Gautam has been the surprise package this season and has shown the ability to get the big scores. Out of his three hundreds this season, two have been big double hundreds (257 vs Vidarbha and 264 not out vs Maharashtra). He has already caught the eye of the selectors as he represented India at the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia in 2011. This run of big scorers may further his chances of playing for India A or other representative sides in the following months.

Parthiv was an option India tried out in the pre-Dhoni era and he was earmarked as a potential long-term option. However, his poor wicket-keeping saw him out of the side and it took him time to make a comeback. For the last two years, he has been a part of the one-day setup – at times playing as a batsman. This season might improve his chances of getting back into the Test squad and be a more regular member of the one-day team.

Other candidates doing well

Dinesh Karthik and Wriddhiman Saha, two men who have been in the Indian scheme of things have also done well in the ongoing Ranji Trophy. Naman Ojha too hasn’t done badly.

Here are their numbers with the bat:

Player M Runs Avg 100s 50s Highest
Dinesh Karthik 8 577 64.11    2   1    187
Wriddhiman Saha 8 558 46.50    0   6      98
Naman Ojha 8 518 37.00    1   3    111

Prior to Dhoni’s arrival, Karthik was India’s wicket-keeper and has been in and out of the side since then. Many a time, he has played as a pure batsman and did reasonably well. However, he was dropped a few years ago and hasn’t been able to make a comeback since. On the sidelines of the national side, he has been very consistent for Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy. Although the selectors haven’t considered him for some time, he would always be a good option because of his dynamic batting.

Saha has been Dhoni’s undestudy in the recent times in Test cricket. He is a gritty batsman, but his keeping has been very impressive. His latest appearance was the Adelaide Test against Australia and he put in a clean wicket-keeping performance. He was balanced and collected most of the deliveries near the waist.

It was a race between the two for some time. WV Raman, the former India cricketer who is currently the coach of Bengal has worked with both Saha and Karthik. He told CricketCountry in June last year, “As far as talent is concerned, Karthik has the advantage, but Saha has raised the bar and has contributed consistently and significantly for all the teams he has played. This has negated Karthik’s advantage. It will boil down to current form and also whether the selectors are looking at a specialist keeper who can contribute lower down the order or whether they want a batsman who can keep a bit.

Ojha is a bit of an outsider, but had toured with the India A side to New Zealand in September last year.
The selectors did not take Saha on that trip and perhaps they wanted to diversify their options.

Dhoni has said last year that he might consider retiring from one format by the end of 2013 – with an aim to prolong his career through to the 2015 World Cup. In that eventuality, the selectors would feel comfortable considering so many options at their disposal. However, they need to groom one man to take the duties – who should play regularly for the A teams etc.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)

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