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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Dinesh Karthik still some way from cementing his place as India's No 4 batsman

Despite match-winning fifty against New Zealand, it is premature to assume India have found long-term ODI replacement for Yuvraj Singh

Dinesh Karthik has been in and out of the Indian team for 13 years. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters
Dinesh Karthik has been in and out of the Indian team for 13 years. Danish Siddiqui / Reuters

When Dinesh Karthik made his debut for India in 2004, Sourav Ganguly was captain, Twenty20 internationals were not a thing and few people outside the country's cricketing circles knew who MS Dhoni was.

Yet more than 13 years later, his place in Indian cricket history remains unresolved.

Karthik was only 19 when he started out as his country's most promising wicketkeeper, having replaced the equally young but erroneous Parthiv Patel. But people familiar with his domestic record - playing for the southern state of Tamil Nadu - knew he was more of a batsman who could keep wickets.

His natural athleticism came in handy, and he brilliantly stumped Michael Vaughan in his first one-day international against England at Lord's.

Watch the stumping

However, he failed to come good with the bat on a consistent basis and, perhaps for that reason, made silly mistakes behind the stumps. A few months later he was replaced by Dhoni, who went on to become India's most successful captain.

At that stage it looked like Karthik's career was over, but he kept coming back: in 2006, 2009, 2013 and twice this year. The sheer number of comebacks might suggest he does not have the staying power at international level, but it also indicates he is not one to give up either.

In fact, he worked even harder over the years to expand his batting repertoire and keep fit. The annual Indian Premier League Twenty20 competition helped, too, as it provided the stage for him to stay relevant.

The timing of Karthik's latest comeback to the national side could not be more perfect.

India's biggest challenge in recent times has been to find a full-time No 4 batsman in ODIs. After dispensing with the ageing Yuvraj Singh, who was the medium-to-long-term custodian of that position, many were trialled but none proved up to the task.

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Suresh Raina is not even in the squad. Manish Pandey is, but his latest outings did nothing but create more doubts about his temperament. Lokesh Rahul was tried in two series after which the selectors realised he indeed is an opener and does not fit the role. Kedar Jadhav stood in on a few occasions but seems more settled at No 5. Even Hardik Pandya was given a go, albeit in situations that demanded an uptick in the run rate.

Hence four years after India won the ICC Champions Trophy in England, the man who played a part in that campaign has stepped back into the breach. And he has done well so far.

In the first ODI of the ongoing home series against New Zealand, Karthik scored 37 batting at No 5. He was promoted to No 4 for the next game, and he repaid the selectors' faith by scoring an unbeaten 64 and in a winning run chase.

The internet has predictably been abuzz since, with talk that India may have finally found their man.

His ODI record needs sampling, though: 1,466 runs, including nine fifties, in 75 ODIs at an average of 29.91 and a strike rate of 73.19 are hardly sensational numbers. In fact, he has never scored back-to-back half-centuries in his career.

All celebrations must, therefore, be put on hold until Karthik proves his performance in Pune is no longer a rarity.

India have two years to prepare for the next World Cup and it will be prudent to persist with the man from Chennai for the next few months, at least. He certainly has the temperament, intelligence and experience to build an innings and provide the anchor India need in the middle overs.

If he does cement his place at No 4, he will finally - perhaps even belatedly - prove he belongs at the highest level. If he does not, it will mean he was not destined to be an Indian hero.

And India will return to square one.

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