Bengaluru Test - a second coming for Dinesh Karthik

The wicketkeeper, who is set to return in Test whites after eight years, is ready to face any challenge as he has created a good mental space for himself, according to mentor Abhishek Nayar and coach Apurva Desai.

Dinesh Karthik has equipped himself well by training outside Chennai periodically.   -  R. Ragu

Fourteen years ago, before the arrival of M.S. Dhoni, Dinesh Karthik made his Test debut against Australia in Mumbai. But it has been eight years since his last Test — against Bangladesh in Chittagong in 2010. The wicketkeeper-batsman kept having entries and exits. His career in whites hit the pause button with Dhoni's rise and Wriddhiman Saha became the second-choice 'keeper.

Karthik's consistency in domestic cricket kept him in fray. Recently, the last-ball six to steer India home against Bangladesh at the Nidahas Trophy final and leading Kolkata Knight Riders to the Indian Premier League playoffs escalated his case. On Saturday, the 33-year-old Karthik was named as the injured Saha's replacement for the upcoming Test match against Afghanistan in Bengaluru starting on June 14.

Though he filled in as a substitute wicketkeeper for Parthiv Patel in the final session of the third Test in Johannesburg in January, the Afghanistan fixture will mark his official return to Test cricket.

Preparing in different conditions

His coach, Apurva Desai, isn’t surprised. “He has been putting in a lot of effort in all formats in the domestic circuit. Every year, he prepares with the red and white ball diligently. In the last 12 months, he has been in India’s ODI and T20 squads so he was focussing on that but if you look at his statistics, he got a couple of hundreds (a total of 291 runs at an average of 72.75) in Duleep Trophy last year. He is somebody who can adapt and has been doing it consistently for sometime. I don’t see it as a challenge but the good form and the positive frame of mind should help him,” said Desai, who has spent a lot of time training Karthik at the D.Y. Patil Stadium in Mumbai.

Since returning to the limited-overs setup, the right-handed Karthik’s agenda was to perform in every game. He knew that one poor outing could pull his shutter.

Desai feels the final session education in Johannesburg gave him the first bout of assurance. “He worked a bit on how to play the red ball in South Africa. His preparations have been good series-by-series. At that level, you got to do that,” he said.

Moving out of Chennai and training in cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai periodically broadened his horizons. “It has helped him a lot because of the wickets, the weather conditions as well as the bowlers. Even when you play in Mumbai or Delhi, the shot selection differs; think about playing in South Africa, Bangladesh and England now. You need different preparations and he has learnt to adapt,” Desai added.

A good mindset

When the chips were down, Mumbai cricketer Abhishek Nayar turned mentor for Karthik. He designed a rigorous routine for the stumper-batsman that gifted him a third eye.

Karthik held on to his lean and athletic build, and discovered a supernatural strength to manoevure the ball through gaps using the crease a lot more. “He has done well in Ranji Trophy but now, his preparations will change as he switches from T20 to Test cricket. It will be interesting and it is something that he relishes. It’s a dream to play Test cricket and to get that opportunity after eight years is great. He will be up and kicking for it,” said Nayar.

Nayar feels Karthik’s mental strength, at present, will help him overcome all obstacles.

“He is obviously more confident about himself now. But as a cricketer, I think it is about building the right frame of mind. Evolving is a temporary thing for me. Sometimes, you feel that a person is really evolving and at times, he doesn’t know what to do. But Karthik is in a good space mentally and there will be a lot of challenges. If he comes through, it will be a great feeling for him,” he said.

When the 19-year-old Karthik made his Test debut in 2004, he was India’s 32nd Test wicketkeeper. In 23 Tests, he scored 1,000 runs — one hundred and seven half-centuries — at an average of 27.77.

Karthik also has 51 catches and five stumpings to his credit.