Dinesh Karthik: A wasted talent?

Dinesh Karthik © Getty Images

Dinesh Karthik, born on June 1, 1985, is a talented glovesman and a versatile batsman. Jaideep Vaidya goes through the career of a player who till now has always made his fans beg for more out of him.

At 28, wicketkeeper-batsman Dinesh Karthik finds himself in the 15-member Indian squad for the ICC [International Cricket Council] Champions Trophy 2013. The last time he played a One-Day International (ODI) was in August 2010; he scored a duck then. The last time he played a Test was in January that same year; he scored a duck and 27. So, how did he get into the team in 2013? He has had a decent Indian Premier League (IPL) for one, being the second highest-run scorer for champions Mumbai Indians, with 510 runs  including two half centuries. He is also the captain of the Tamil Nadu Ranji team and has generally had a solid domestic record. But still, was that enough to get into the team? More importantly, will he make the most of his opportunity?

Making the most of opportunity — it’s an area where Karthik has unfailingly failed. Or else you wouldn’t find a guy who made his First-Class debut in 2002 as a promising 17-year-old, play just 52 ODIs and 23 Tests in a now eight-and-a-half year international career that just saw him get just 1,000 runs in either format. Yet, Karthik always got a chance to make a comeback. As a 17-year-old, he was dropped soon after his debut due to inferior keeping abilities. He worked on the art and fought his way back into the India squad for the Under-19 World Cup in 2004 where he scored a whirlwind 70 in a must-win match against Sri Lanka, along with two important hundreds in the Ranji Trophy.

After debuting for India in both formats the same year, he failed to make the most of his opportunities — hitting just one fifty in his first 10 Tests. His struggles with the bat and the rise of a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who did anything but struggle with the bat, saw him being booted out again. He went back to the domestic circuit and got promoted to the opening slot for Tamil Nadu, and revelled. This got him a ticket back into the Indian team in late 2006, and he soon scored his maiden Test hundred against Bangladesh. A dismal showing by India in the 2007 World Cup and the subsequent sacking of a few players saw him fix his place as a Test opener for a while.

As a surprise for many, Karthik was India’s leading run-scorer in the historic series triumph in England in the summer of 2007. However, another slump in form soon after saw him being kicked out yet again. He made the occasional appearance in the side for the next three years, while Dhoni cemented his place as the wicketkeeper and captain, and a highly successful one at that. Karthik, meanwhile, piled on the runs in the Ranji Trophy and soon became Tamil Nadu captain, but the India call-back remained elusive. Nothing, including changing his name from Kaarthik to Kaarthick and finally back to the original, worked. Nothing, until April 2013 where he set the stage alight with an inspiring batting performance at the IPL and the Ranji Trophy, where he scored 577 runs from eight matches at an average of 64 and a highest of 187.

Dinesh Karthik: A wasted talent?

Dinesh Karthik… a dependable batsman © Getty Images

In an interview with ESPNcricinfo in 2007, Karthik had said about his time out of the national squad: “In those two years out of the Indian team I learned more than I did when I was in the team. I came back a much stronger man. And if it does happen again, I’m pretty confident I’ll come back stronger once again.” It seems as if he has made a habit out of it. But what you cannot dismiss is his determination to strive and work his way back.

Karthik’s mental strength is perhaps down to the way his father Krishna Kumar, who was himself a first-division cricketer, brought him up. “I used to throw the leather ball at a very high speed so that he developed his reflexes early,” he said. “He [Karthik] used to get hit on the head sometimes and cry for a while. But those evenings helped him face the hard ball without fear.”

If Karthik’s in-and-out status with regard to the Indian team has helped him anywhere, it is in making him a versatile batsman who can bat anywhere in the line-up. “I have always been confident in my batting ability,” he said. “Besides that, I am a decent fielder. So, I look forward to doing in well in any format.”

With Karthik having proved himself in the shortest format over the last two months, the next two weeks will test him in the 50-over game. As an Indian cricket fan, you want him to do well and make the most of this latest opportunity, and he just might end up becoming the player of the tournament. The question, however, will still remain — for how long will he last this time?

(Jaideep Vaidya is a reporter, sub-editor and analyst at CricketCountry. A diehard Manchester United fan and multiple sports buff, you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook)