The action has moved from the baking heat of the subcontinent to the chilly weather of the United Kingdom. The mood has changed. From the blink-and-miss action of T20, we move on to the saner and the more ‘traditional version’ of the shorter format.
The composition of the Indian ODI team has changed a bittoo when compared to the recent past, primarily in the batting department. While Sachin Tendulkar had announced his retirement from International cricket but for Test slate last year, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir have been given the message to work on their form before being considered for International cricket again. The ones to make their way into the squad are the highly successful opening pair from the Test series against Australia – Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay. Dinesh Karthik is the other player to stake a claim to the relatively new look Indian batting line-up.
The captain, MS Dhoni, seems less inclined to disturb this opening combination even with a woefully out of form Murali Vijay.
Dinesh Karthik though, is not an automatic choice and might have to fight it out with his Mumbai Indian team-mate and captain, Rohit Sharma. Dhoni might not mind the headache caused by this middle order duel.
On his part, Rohit Sharma has been a revelation this year. With some heavyweights and experienced players reluctant to take the responsibility of MI captaincy in the IPL, it fell on Rohit Sharma half way through the tournament and rather unexpectedly. Allowing the responsibility to spur him on, Rohit Sharma contributed heavily as a batsman and captain to get Mumbai Indians to win their first IPL title.
Dinesh Karthik was spared such scrutiny and wave of expectations but nevertheless, came in to rescue the team on multiple occasions. Promoted to No. 3 in the batting order by the different captains that took over Mumbai Indians, he repaid the faith with some blistering knocks, most of them delighting the eye of a purist as well.
What impressed more than the solid performances in the domestic season and the IPL has been Karthik’s ability to handle pressure situations and come out on top. He seems to have grabbed the opportunities at the right time too; his recent unbeaten century against Sri Lanka in the warm-up game being the latest in the list of pressure knocks.
Rohit Sharma’s inconsistency at the International level despite being fed a number of opportunities would be a tad worrisome for Dhoni. His failure to adjust to the conditions in England in both the warm-up matches, could also work against him in this tight contest for the middle order spot.
What could make the decision-making a lot easier for the Indian captain is to twist the thinking a bit than just view it as a ‘vacant spot to be filled’. It could be an interesting prospect to play Dinesh Karthik as a wicket-keeper batsmanthan just a batsman for two reasons. One is the impact that it would have on the multiple roles that MS Dhoni plays in the team. Of the 3 layers of Dhoni’s contribution, ‘behind the wickets’ is the area where he’s least indispensable. He has much more to offer as a captain and as a batsman especially in the shorter format. The kind of fitness required of a wicket-keeper apart from the pressures of batting and captaincy in all 3 formats of the game can be quite dehydrating physically and mentally. There have been some serious troughs in India’s performances in the last couple of years lending credence to this line of thinking, prompting Rahul Dravid to comment at one point in time that Dhoni was indeed starting to look jaded.
The other point is the issue of sameness to the Indian team in all 3 formats of the game. Teams like South Africa, Australia and England use different players donning the country colours across the formats particularly from one extreme of T20 to the other of Test cricket. This allows the team to preserve key players from injuries, keep the team looking and feeling fresh, and, conform to the cliché of ‘horses for courses’. India has been steadfastly ignoring this line of thought despite less than satisfactory performances in the recent past.
It would be interesting to see how MS Dhoni puts together his batting members but the relief that Dinesh Karthik’s inclusion can offer the skipper, if played in his full role, is worth more than just a passing thought.