Dinesh Karthik scored 263 runs in three Tests at an average of 43.83 during India's tour of England in 2007 © Getty Images
Dinesh Karthik scored 263 runs in three Tests at an average of 43.83 during India’s tour of England in 2007 © Getty Images

 

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

 

We often hear commentators saying, “When it is your day, everything goes in your favor; when it isn’t, it feels as if the whole world conspires against you.”

 

Mahendra Singh Dhoni will more than agree with that statement as his Indian team faces numerous problems at Lord’s. If conceding a huge lead wasn’t enough, unwanted injuries and illness had to come in the picture. First it was Zaheer Khan’s hamstring strain, then Sachin Tendulkar was down with viral fever which kept him out of the field for two sessions on Day Four. Things got even worse when Gautam Gambhir was hit on the elbow while fielding at forward short-leg. And all this followed after it became known that Virender Sehwag has not recovered from his surgery to play in the first Test.

 

An impact on the elbow can be nasty and Gambhir took a full-blooded blow from a sweep by Matt Prior. In case Gambhir’s injury doesn’t heel in time, India would be in a spot of bother with their batting because Abhinav Mukund would be the only fit opener in their squad.

 

Technically, India are carrying three openers in their Test squad in Mukund, Gambhir and Sehwag. But Sehwag is sideline for the moment. The risk of selecting Sehwag was worth taking, but in the bargain the selectors have missed the trick in not selecting one more back-up opener or at least someone who can do that job for India. If Gambhir’s injury rules him out of a Test or two, India would be forced to look for reinforcements.

 

Over the last two years, India’s back-up opener has been Murali Vijay. Whenever Sehwag or Gambhir were out with injuries, he stepped up and usually did very well. However, he hasn’t produced the goods off-late as he had a below-average tour to the West Indies. His only substantial score in the series was in the last innings of the third Test as India were looking to push for victory. Thus, India need to look beyond him if they want reinforcements in England.

 

A name that should pop-up immediately is that of Dinesh Karthik. In my opinion he should have been in the Test squad before Wriddhiman Saha, simply because he can be used as a floater in the batting order, the wicket-keeping abilities being the added advantage. Karthik is not an opener by trade, but has done the job for India in Test matches.

 

The reason why Karthik should be considered is that he has experience in English conditions and has done very well. The last time India were in England, Karthik opened the batting with Wasim Jaffer. One of the reasons why India won that series was Karthik’s consistency in providing good starts at the top. He scored fifties in all the three Test matches which set the platform for middle order take control. The fact that he was India’s top run-getter in the series ahead of players like Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman speaks volumes of his efforts.

 

Here are Karthik’s stats in the series:

 

M

Runs

Avge

50s

Highest

3

263

43.83

3

91

 

His fifties at Tent Bridge (Second Test) and The Oval (Third Test) were aggressive and stroke full, but in the second innings at Lord’s he adopted a cautious approach when India had lost a few wickets in pursuit of a huge total. It shows that he can adapt according to the conditions and the situation. England’s new ball bowlers in that series were James Anderson and Ryan Sidebottom who both got copious swing that summer, but Karthik was up to the task.

 

Karthik hasn’t played a Test since the Bangladesh tour which was early last year, but if needed the Indian selectors need to take the brave call of picking him ahead of Murali Vijay and the likes of Aakash Chopra and Wasim Jaffer, who had good domestic seasons.

 

There was an occasion when the Indian selectors made an inspired choice and trusted their instincts after considering the performances of a player on a previous tour. When India toured Australia in 2007-08, Sehwag was picked out of nowhere for the Test series. In fact, the selectors had announced 24 probables for the Test series and Sehwag didn’t feature in that list. The ultimate selection made sense because Sehwag was a success on India’s tour to Australia in 2003-04. Four years later, Sehwag batted very well in the Test series Down Under and scored an important hundred in the last game of the series. An inspired choice had worked wonders.

 

If Gambhir’s injury is serious, the Indian selectors have to be prepared to make an inspired selection. But the question: Will they be brave enough to do it?

 

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.”)