No dearth of talent

It is pretty evident that abilities with the bat supersede most other aspects when it concerns selection of the 'keeper for the National team.

SANJAY RAJAN

OBVIOUSLY Mahendra Singh Dhoni had won the Indian cricket captain's confidence during the one-day series against Bangladesh last month. So impressed was Sourav Ganguly of the burly lad's abilities as a 'keeper-bat that he spoke of the Jharkhand cricketer henceforth donning the big gloves in limited-overs internationals.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni -- enjoying the confidence of skipper Sourav Ganguly. -- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

If this is true, then Rahul Dravid can heave a sigh of relief. The Indian vice-captain has for long doubled up as 'keeper so as to allow the team to fit in an extra batsman.

The Bangalorean said recently, "I look at the team's needs. I really hope that we find a good 'keeper-batsman for the one-dayers in the near future, because that is what is probably going to get this team ahead."

Ganguly is not the one to shower praise early. Actually, he is the kind who only believes in what he sees. Clearly, he liked what he saw of Dhoni.

Dhoni found a place in the National one-day side based on his abilities with the bat more than his work behind the stumps, which was the case with Test 'keeper Dinesh Kaarthick as well.

Though the 23-year-old made his first-class debut in '99-00, it was only last year that he became a serious contender for a slot in the National overs-limit side with a series of power-packed performances — a quick fire hundred that helped East Zone clinch the Deodhar Trophy, a daring 60 in the Duleep Trophy final and two centuries against Pakistan `A' in the triangular tournament in Kenya.

The Ranchi-born cricketer is an audacious kind of a batsman — possibly inspired by Virender Sehwag — who loves to strike the ball hard.

It is pretty evident that abilities with the bat supersede most other aspects when it concerns selection of the 'keeper for the National team. We saw it happen with 19-year-old Kaarthick, when the Tamil Nadu cricketer was picked in place of Parthiv Patel for the limited-overs series in Holland and England.

Dinesh Kaarthick did not get a fair run in the ODIs. — Pic. R. RAGU-

Ganguly did react quite strangely to Kaarthick's inclusion then, saying that he would persist with Dravid in the one-day version and Patel in Tests. It possibly had to do with the fact that the Bengal left-hander had not watched Kaarthick from close quarters in domestic competition and, as has been stated earlier, Ganguly does not believe unless he sees for himself.

It all changed after Kaarthick's spectacular stumping of Michael Vaughan in the NatWest Challenge against England, and further his exceptional keeping to Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh on a minefield of a Wankhede pitch in the fourth Test against Australia which ended in three days. It was Kaarthick's debut, and he replaced a shattered Patel who had miserable outings in the first three Tests.

While it would only seem logical to think the selectors were unfair to Kaarthick by picking Dhoni without giving the Tamil Nadu lad a fair run in ODIs, you realise that the country presently has three young 'keepers with potential — Patel, obviously, included — and the best way to keep the trio on their toes is to give them all equal chances.

After all, Kaarthick took over from Patel, and it does seem that the natural progression for a slot in Test cricket is through ODIs, when it concerns our National team that is.

One feels sorry for Patel. Blooded at the highest level on the basis of his promise, the Gujarat cricketer, still only 19, somehow did not learn with exposure. But, as former Test stumper Bharath Reddy put it rightly, "The Selection Committee should not brush Patel aside like they did Ajay Ratra."

Patel has some very obvious technical shortcomings. His wide stance lends stability, but his movements, as a result, get restricted and he gets up very early in the hope of making up for his slow movements.

Reddy's assessment of the present situation is thus. "We have three 'keepers, strong batsmen in their own ways, with defects in their primary department which can be worked upon.

"I think Patel will be alright after playing 20-30 domestic games. Surprisingly, he made his Ranji debut only this year. I always felt that he never really got behind the line of the ball, which is an uncommon drawback in those playing at the highest level.

"But then, I've always believed that wicket-keeping, like fielding, can be improved. It's a question of spending time as well as enjoying every moment of it.

"Dhoni is at present the soundest technically among the three. But the Board should deem itself lucky to find three promising 'keepers, especially after the shoddy treatment meted out to Ratra.

Parthiv Patel_ failed to learn from exposure.-- Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

"The Board should take special interest in ironing out the flaws in the trio. Invite a foreign coach for it, if need be.

"I feel the pressure on cricketers is a lot more now than before, which is why there is the tendency to find scapegoats. The domestic grind is certain to help Patel," said the former Tamil Nadu captain.

Sadanand Vishwanath, considered one of the most talented stumper the country has seen, also had encouraging words for Patel.

Said the former Karnataka cricketer, "He has a full career ahead of him. It is a question of getting his mental skills right. I had a word with him recently and it grew clear that constant TV replays of his misses were working on the lad's mind.

"His technique is overall pretty sound, just a few adjustments here and there. He is a short man and must realise that with his limited reach he should leave catches going to slip to the slip cordon.

"He needs to work on his stance, I thought he crouches too much, which leads to discomfort around the shoulders. I guess he needs to get a little upright. Parthiv also has to work on his abdomen; I noticed he still retains puppy flab around his waist. The modern game is different. In the earlier days, batsmen left the ball, which kept a 'keeper alert. The grind of domestic cricket should make him a lot sterner," said Vishwanath, presently a National panel umpire.

The first thing that strikes you about Kaarthick is his combative instincts. His keeping is about grit as well, but the young man needs to develop consistency.

Ajay Ratra... shoddily treated by the selectors. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-

Kaarthick, who came into National reckoning after scoring centuries in the Ranji Trophy semifinals and final last season, can be brilliant behind the stumps one moment and surprisingly ordinary the next, which is probably why he has dropped regulation catches now and then. His form changes in sessions. But he kept brilliantly in his debut Test.

Kaarthick loves the centre-stage. Vishwanath describes him as a livewire. "He possesses the attributes of a 'keeper and can only get better with experience," said the Bangalorean.

Dhoni looked solid in those three ODIs against Bangladesh, but we haven't yet seen him keep to the spin duo of Kumble and Harbhajan, which is the real test.

Vishwanth felt it was premature to write off Ratra. "I expect a late bid from him. The contest looks keen, and we'll know in a year."

Former Test cricketer Chandrakant Pandit said 'keepers, like spinners, mature late. "Considering the amount of opportunities he got, Patel should have done something about it. I never could understand the concept of grooming at the highest level. Grooming is done at all other levels. At the highest level, you are expected to perform. To me, wicket-keeping is a specialist's job and a 'keeper is the backbone when the side is fielding."