Karthik to replace Saha at Afghanistan Test Series

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 With a big question mark hanging over injured Wriddhiman Saha’s availability, the national selection committee appears to be in no hurry to name a replacement or a backup wicketkeeper for the one-off Test against Afghanistan to be played in Bengaluru later this month.

No one really knows who the selectors have in mind, but going by the previous occurrences — MSK Prasad-chaired three-member panel will not look beyond Parthiv Patel or Dinesh Karthik for the slot.

When India played South Africa in a three-Test series earlier this year, they had carried along with them three specialist openers in Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay to encounter seamer-friendly pitches.

It didn’t help much as the team think-tank asked Patel to open in the second innings of the last Test at Newlands after the specialists struggled in hostile conditions. The feisty Amdavadi tried to make amends for his messy glove work, but didn’t last too long on a juicy wicket tailor-made surface for the quicks.

Now, however, Dinesh Karthik’s resurgence has added an option to the selectors list as they eye the demanding five-Test series against England.

The 33-year-old was called as a backup for Saha during the series in South Africa and if selected again, the conditions in England will not be alien for the 33-year-old.

The man from Tamil Nadu was picked as an opener for the 2007 series along with Wasim Jaffer. He played a crucial role by putting up a 147-run stand for the opening wicket on a green seamer at Trent Bridge which paved the way for India winning the series.

“In 2006-07 when we were touring South Africa we were in a bit of quandary. Mahi (MS Dhoni) wasn’t fully fit and to add to our woes Virendra Sehwag, too, was injured. There was a debate as to who would open and as Greg Chappell and I were discussing the options, Dinesh approached me and said, ‘I want to open the innings.’ We could feel the confidence in his voice and we went ahead with him. He scored a brilliant 63,”recalls former Test captain Dilip Vengsarkar, who was then the chairman of selectors.

Karthik’s attitude had stood out and that earned him a ticket to England. His opening partner for the series, Jaffer, recollects a jumpy young batsman.

“That was 11 years ago,” says Jaffer who with his reassuring presence was just the opposite of what Karthik was.

“He was pretty hyper back then. He is much experienced and mellowed down considerably even more after leading Kolkata Knight Riders recently. Not only batting, but even his keeping has improved. He understands his game better. But now he is a very good option to have in the squad.” says Jaffer who is currently playing in one of the Manchester Leagues.

The long tour (five Test matches) of England is likely to test the mettle of the Indian batsmen and more so of the openers. Going by previous instances there is a good chance that the team think-tank may use a non-regular opener if the regular ones don’t deliver.

Karthik, of course, can come in handy. Not only can he open the batting but even negotiate the second new ball while batting at No 6 or No 7.

“He is a great team man,”says Vengsarkar. “There was never a question over his batting abilities. He can open the batting for India on merit. He is in such fantastic form,” he adds.

Jaffer feels the openers do not inspire confidence following the last overseas series in South Africa.

“KL Rahul appears to be in good. Shikhar Dhawan still has to prove himself abroad and Murali Vijay of late is not displaying the same confidence as he earlier did. Karthik is definitely a better option in this scenario,” he says.

“As far as young keepers like Rishabh Pant and Ishan Kishan go, I don’t think England is the right place to give them a break. You need an experience here,” says Jaffer.

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