Immensely talented, it would be cruel to call him a stepney. But he has still ended up becoming a player of the Twilight Zone, neither being a regular nor retiring outright.
In the past, keepers like Farokh Engineer and Syed Kirmani had longish stints, but the last regular wicket-keeper of the twentieth century was Kiran More, who played from 1986-93.
After that the post was up for grabs for a good 10 years or so.
Vijay Yadav. Nayan Mongia. Mannava Prasad. Saba Karim. Vijay Dahiya. Sameer Dighe. Deep Dasgupta. Ajay Ratra. Parthiv Patel.
They all made their debuts as Test wicket-keepers from 1993-2002.
In fact at the end of this musical chairs’ game in 2004, for a while it did seem that Karthik would become our regular Test wicket-keeper. Karthik replaced Parthiv for the last Test of the Australia 2003-04 series and then went on to don the gloves continuously for the subsequent South Africa, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Zimbabwe series.
However in the Sri Lanka series after that long stint, a certain MS Dhoni became our Test wicket-keeper, on the basis of his flamboyance in the ODI theatre and soon grabbed both the gloves and captaincy in all forms of the game.
Karthik found himself in the cold and kept playing a personal game of musical chairs with Team India. In fact when Dhoni finally retired from Test cricket in 2012, the selectors turned to Wriddhiman Saha, who has played almost all India Tests since then.
The mantle passed from More to Dhoni and then to Saha. Karthik may have another reason to be miffed because he is younger than Saha and at that time was far more experienced.
With all indications that Dhoni will be around for the 2019 ODI World Cup, it is anyone’s guess who will step into his shoes in the shorter formats of the game, but it’s fair to say it might not be Karthik, who will be 34 at that time.
Always the bridesmaid and never the bride! Karthik finds himself in exactly the same place when he has been picked up as the spare wicket-keeper for the India-New Zealand ODI series. Karthik is a good batsman, but with the absolute richness of batting talent in India’s bench strength, it is doubtful that Karthik will play a single game unless there is an injury.
Karthik has always been unlucky. Once in a Sri Lanka ODI in 2009, he came 3 down and hit a breezy run-a-ball 32 and India chased the target comfortably. However he got great flak for that innings because the great Sachin Tendulkar ended the game on 96 not out.
Headlines like “Karthik denies Sachin ton” and “Karthik leaves Tendulkar stranded on 96” dominated the next day’s news outlets even as the commentators flayed him when the game ended ignoring the victory we had achieved. Anyone could be easily mistaken for thinking Karthik actually lost India that game!
Is a team’s main goal to achieve victory or let a single person score record upon record at the cost of his team-mates? Those who have an excess of riches are given more and those who have less have even that snatched away from them. Karthik falls into the latter category.
But Karthik is lucky in one aspect at least. That he was born in the era of IPL. Till the 1990s only 8-10 cricketers in India had meaningful affairs and became money making stars. There was no money in Ranji and sometimes the staying conditions on out of state tours were abysmal.
All that has changed! Since the introduction of the Indian Cricket League (ICL) and its successor IPL, hundreds of cricketers have managed to make a career, money and fame thanks to domestic T20. Ranji conditions have also improved drastically.
In IPL, Karthik has scored nearly 3000 runs in more than 150 matches. He has hit 71 sixes and effected 114 dismissals. He has played for the Delhi Daredevils, Kings XI Punjab, Mumbai Indians, Delhi Daredevils, Royal Challengers Bangalore and Gujarat Lions.
That’s 6 IPL teams and if you add all three international formats and his Tamil Nadu Ranji team then he has been in and out of a total of ten teams in his career! Sounds bad, but he still has had a continuous career.
But if Karthik ends up watching the New Zealand ODIs from the dressing room, he’ll probably still be wondering how his career would have been vastly different had he had a bit more luck!
The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here