‘I lost my place... BUT to Dhoni’
Dinesh Karthik says he was not consistent enough in a highly competitive environment
It wasn't easy being Dinesh Karthik in an era where Mahendra Singh Dhoni redefined the role of a keeper-batsman.
Having last played a Test match way back in 2010, Karthik, during all these years of soul searching, was honest in his analysis as to why he didn't get a chance to wear the white flannels.
"Look, I think I wasn't good enough, rather I was not consistent enough. That was a highly competitive environment and there was someone called MS Dhoni breathing down my neck, which caused a lot of stir in world cricket at that point of time. He went on to become one of the greatest captains India has ever produced," Karthik said ahead of his comeback Test against Afghanistan.
Karthik, who came in as a replacement to injured Wriddhiman Saha, has not played 87 Tests since he played the last of his 23 Tests against Bangladesh in 2010.
In fact, a statistician will reveal the plight of the keepers during 'Dhoni era'. Karthik's 87 Test match gap is an Indian record but then the earlier record was held by Parthiv Patel, who made a comeback after 83 Test matches and eight year hiatus from the longest format.
"So, I didn't lose my place to some normal cricketer; he (Dhoni) was special. I respect him for that. At that stage, I could not produce enough performance to hold on to my side. I need to be honest with myself. Now, I have another opportunity and I guess, I will try my best," the Chennai stumper said in an honest assessment.
If Dhoni kept him out of Test squad till 2014, the next four years saw emergence of Wriddhiman Saha as one of India's most technically accomplished wicketkeepers.
While Saha's injury has opened the door for Karthik, he wouldn't like to over-burden himself by thinking how he could hold onto his place.
"If you go deep into the question on what I should do to keep out someone else, then you are taking energy away from the fact that you are competing with somebody (Afghanistan). That puts extra pressure to what already is there," Karthik said.
"What I am trying to do - as cliched as it may sound - is trying to be the best cricketer that I can be, not on the field but also off the field. I am trying to be consistent there, even if I don't get an opportunity. Even if I don't play the sport at the highest level, I want to be content with the fact that I have given everything I had - both on and off the field," he said.
"If I go into your question and start thinking about that aspect, then it will be subjective - I need to score this, I need to score that. I don't want to keep it that way. I want to keep it in a way which is try and prepare as much as I can. And given a chance, try and deliver. I am keeping my whole process that way."
The dashing keeper-batsman also feels that playing Ranji Trophy for Tamil Nadu kept him on his toes as the team was playing Ranji Trophy knock-outs almost every two years.
"I enjoyed playing the Ranji Trophy. It is a totally different challenge. There are not many people coming and watch you play, yet we play the sport because we enjoy playing it. I am lucky that way because I have always done that subconsciously. I have enjoyed being a part of Tamil Nadu team.
‘We have experience’
Indian wicketkeeper Dinesh Karthik is enamoured by Afghanistan's "beautiful journey" in international cricket but that has not held him back from shooting off a veiled warning to the newcomers.
"Clearly all their spinners put together wouldn't have played that many matches that (a young) Kuldeep Yadav (24 first-class matches) would have played in four day cricket," Karthik said ahead of the historic one-off Test against Afghanistan starting Thursday.
Factually, he was correct as Kuldeep's 24 first-class games including two Test matches is 13 more than the aggregate of 11 four-day games between three of their specialist spinners - Rashid Khan (4), Zahir Khan (7) and Rahman (0).
Karthik was all praise for what the war-ravaged country has achieved on the cricketing arena but politely reminded rival captain Asghar Stanikzai about why Indian spinners are far ahead of the T20 sensations like Rashid Khan and Mujeeb ur Rahman.
Recently, after routing Bangladesh in a three-match T20 series, Stanikzai said that Afghanistan have "better quality spinners" than India.
"I don't know what the person (Stanikzhai) had said but you have got to understand that we have got a lot of experience, not only in Test match cricket but a lot of domestic cricket, a lot of four day matches."
Karthik said that value of experience can never be undermined, a testimony is a whopping 476 Test wickets between Ravichandran Ashwin (311) and Ravindra Jadeja (165 wickets).
"Experience at the end of the day has a lot of value as you saw with CSK in IPL. I am very sure that they (Afghanistan) would be better bowlers by the start of the next Test match than what they are now," Karthik had words of encouragement for the rookies.
He feels that Afghanistan spinners' phenomenal show in shorter versions can be transformed in longer versions also.
"The kind of improvement they have shown in white ball cricket has been phenomenal. There is no reason why they can't do it in red ball cricket. But I would say our spinners have a lot of experience and I would say experience can't be easily bought. I am sure their players will also vouch for that."
The wicket-keeper batsman said that Afghanistan's journey should be put into perspective simply because what the players have achieved in an environment of turmoil.
"Oh it's a beautiful journey isn't it. It's been a highlight for ICC to have a Test nation in Afghanistan. Not many people knew Afghanistan played cricket. We all know what a tough place it is and the kind of turmoil they go through and despite that, they are able to inspire people with their performances," the 33-year-old Tamil Nadu stumper said.
"You have to give them credit. They are trying to beat all the odds with little infrastructure that they have got. I hope they get to play a lot of Test cricket. In two years, they have had household names (like Rashid). Not only are they competing in shorter formats but are also winning series (Bangaldesh)."
Afghanistan could be a template for other countries that nothing is impossible.
"(Their emergence is) good for the sport as well. Many countries can take this route and take the challenge and do as well as they can. It will be a fabulous story in the history of their country," added Karthik, who is set to play his first Test in more than eight years.
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