Why Dinesh Karthik deserves a spot in India’s T20I team

Since walking off the field after a dramatic run out in the semi-finals of World Cup earlier this year, Mahendera Singh Dhoni is yet to play any competitive cricket either for his domestic side Jharkhand or for India. The sabbatical was initially explained away as a break to serve his army regiment but has now lasted more than six months. Dhoni also gave the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy and the T20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Tournaments a miss last month.

So, is it the end of the Dhoni-era?

Team India coach Ravi Shastri, one of Dhoni’s strongest supporters, dropped a hint last week. “It all depends on when he starts playing and how he is playing during the IPL,” Shastri told IANS. “What are the other people doing with the wicket-keeping gloves or what is the form of those players as opposed to Dhoni’s form. The IPL becomes a massive tournament because that could be the last tournament after which more or less your 15 is decided. There might be one player who might be there and thereabouts in case of an injury or whatever. But your team I would say would be known after the IPL.”

Rishabh Pant has taken over the wicket-keeping gloves from Dhoni and is entrusted to to do the finisher’s role in T20Is as an explosive batsman. Except, the 21-year-old wicket-keeper’s form appears to be a genuine concern for now. Pant has scored just 358 runs at an average of 19.89 and a strike rate of 118.54 in 23 T20Is he has played in his career. Recently, while reiterating his faith in Pant’s talent and destructive ability, Ravi Shastri did say that some of his decisions with the bat had let the team down.

The absence of injured all-rounder Hardik Pandya from the Indian squad has created additional pressure on the lower middle order. Dinesh Karthik’s current form and excellent T20I record suggests that he would have been an ideal pick in such a situation.

Karthik was dropped from both India’s ODI and T20I teams after the 50-over World Cup. In the World Cup, Karthik scored 8 and 6 in the two innings which he played. Against Bangladesh, Karthik came in to bat at No. 7 in the 45th over and scored 8 (9). In the semi-final against New Zealand, Karthik was sent in to bat at No 5 ahead of Dhoni. For all we know, the chances of the 34-year old Karthik playing the next ODI World Cup in 2023 is slim and hence his exclusion from the ODI side, to make way for youngsters, is understandable.

What is intriguing is that Karthik got dropped from the T20I team as well. Since making his comeback to the format after seven years in July 2017, Karthik had become a vital part of the T20I team. In the last year or so, he was exceptional when it came to run chases and performed the finisher’s role with aplomb.

Since July 2017, Karthik has scored 299 runs in 22 T20Is at an average of 59.80 and a strike rate of 161.62. In the 10 matches where India batted second, Karthik scored 209 runs at an average of 104.50 and a strike rate of 155.97. Not to forget Karthik has the best strike rate among Indian batsmen in the second innings since July 2017.

In the same time period, India won eight out of ten T20Is while chasing with Karthik in the Playing XI. Karthik batted on seven occasions, remaining unbeaten every single time to score 141 runs at a strike rate of 142.42.

After getting dropped from the Indian team, Karthik has been in stellar form for Tamil Nadu in both the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. Karthik smashed four 50s in Vijay Hazare trophy where he scored 418 runs in 12 matches at an average of 59.7 and a strike rate of 121.15. In Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy 2019 Karthik has scored 301 runs in 12 matches at an average of 33.44 to lead Tamil Nadu to the final.

These figures reiterate Karthik’s ability to perform the role of a finisher in India’s T20I side. But a recall doesn’t look like a possibility despite dishing out such impressive performances even as India continues to select the out of sorts Rishabh Pant, who has been unable to do the role asked of him in T20Is. One wonders if it’s a ploy to make a case for Dhoni’s comeback for the T20I World Cup in place of Pant, reading between Shastri’s lines.

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