BCCI announced Dinesh Karthik as the replacement for Wriddhiman Saha, who was ruled out of the Test series in South Africa due to a hamstring injury.
Interestingly Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel were India’s best wicketkeeping options before MS Dhoni made his Test debut in 2005, and continue to remain the best options more than three years after Dhoni’s retirement from the format.
Who else is there? Nobody stands out, Vijay Dahiya, former Delhi and India wicketkeeper says. Another former India wicketkeeper and coach of several Ranji Trophy teams, Chandrakant Pandit, agreed: “I don’t find anybody in domestic cricket who has been doing well as a wicketkeeper-batsman.”
Both Pandit and Dahiya learned and developed their keeping skills in the last century, when specialist wicketkeepers was the norm, and importantly, the only yardstick for getting selected, both at state and national level. Both men bemoan that is no more the trend. It is partly because team think-tanks, including at the national level, want better batting depth.
Selectors have started picking players who can bat and then keep, Dahiya says. “Why do you think Ishan Kishan and Rishabh Pant have started getting picked (in emerging squads) so quickly? Because they were getting runs.”
When the BCCI announced Karthik as Saha’s replacement earlier this week, some experts sighed, saying the selectors had once again taken a backward step by not sending Pant to South Africa for the third Test. The same pundits wanted Pant to replace Dhoni in the limited-overs formats in the past year when Dhoni struggled for fluency and impact as a batsman in T20s.
Pandit is against such an idea only because on overseas trips, he feels, selectors want a player with experience, someone who would not be overwhelmed by the conditions. ‘When you are playing abroad and suddenly your first-choice wicketkeeper is injured, you always look for an experienced player, somebody who has played in those conditions, someone who can take that challenge.”
Both Pant and Kishan have kept wicket on A tours, including in South Africa last year, but Dahiya and Pandit believe they are not ready for the step up to Test cricket. ‘Because of Twenty20 cricket, makeshift wicketkeepers are getting opportunities,” Pandit says.
“What is happening now is most of the young wicketkeepers are not able to concentrate on keeping. That element is being badly neglected.”
MSK Prasad, a former India wicketkeeper, and current chairman of the selection panel, had last year expressed similar sentiment when he said the reason Saha was the No. 1 choice was because of his wicketkeeping. But selectors at the state level, Pandit points out, have started looking for players who can bat first and then keep. ‘In the past, keeping wickets was given priority over scoring runs, but now wicketkeepers need to bat.”