Karthik thrown a deserved lifeline; Sreesanth could do with one

May 11, 2013 02:13 am | Updated November 16, 2021 08:28 pm IST

The Movie, ‘Sliding Doors’ followed Gwyneth Paltrow’s character through two distinctly different scenarios. It showed how her life would have been completely different had she caught the train instead of missing it.

When I think of that movie, I think of Dinesh Karthik. His life could have turned out very differently had Mahendra Singh Dhoni not appeared on the scene.

Karthik made his Test debut in November 2004 in the Mumbai Test victory over Australia which was achieved inside three days. He made scores of 10 and 4 and claimed two victims with the gloves.

Dhoni made his ODI debut a month later in Chittagong, where he was run-out without scoring.

In his fifth innings in ODI cricket, Dhoni burst to life with a swashbuckling 148 and announced his arrival on the big stage. From that point, his career has totally eclipsed that of Karthik’s.

The similarities between the two characters are considerable. Both men have an unshakeable belief in their own ability. Neither is cocky, nor are they shrinking violets.

Dhoni is outwardly more reserved and rarely reveals his emotions, whereas Karthik wears his heart on his sleeve. The two of them have an impish streak that resides just below the surface and comes readily to life away from the cricket field.

Both men are flamboyant with a cricket bat in hand. Karthik is more aesthetic, while Dhoni has power to burn with his muscularly bucolic method.

Dhoni has taken considerable advantage of a greater ability to manage his emotions under pressure. This is a skill that Karthik would do well to emulate.

Karthik is four years Dhoni’s junior and still has time to make a mark for himself in international cricket.

His selection in the Champions Trophy squad suggests that his recent good form with the bat has brought him back onto the selectors’ radar, rather than his glovework.

That is a good thing, for he has not fully realised his potential as a batsman while languishing in Dhoni’s shadow. If he gets opportunities with the bat in England next month, he still has time to make his mark internationally.

If Dhoni stood down from Test cricket in the near future, there is no reason why Karthik could not add to his tally of 23 Tests and a batting average of 27. He does not have Dhoni’s audacious power, but is a gifted ball-striker in his own right and can bat anywhere in the batting order.

He is most suited to the top-order in the shorter formats and the middle-order in Test cricket, although he has opened in a Test against South Africa in Cape Town with success.

The Indian squad for the Champions Trophy has a refreshingly new look and seems to have been picked with an eye on the 2015 World Cup. Experience has made way for form players who will need to play together over the next year or so, to establish the right combinations.

Players like Sehwag, Gambhir and Yuvraj have not done enough recently to persuade the selection panel that they can help defend India’s World Cup. Gambhir might be one who has time on his side if he is able to recapture some of his best form.

Deficient area

Pace bowling is one area in which this Indian squad is deficient. They have a number of swing bowlers, but lack genuine pace and proven match-winners.

One bowler who would have enhanced their chances in England is a fit and in-form Sreesanth. For me, his injury history and fall from grace has been one of the recent tragedies in Indian cricket.

As a young pace bowler he was one of the most exciting prospects I saw in my time in India. After a learning tour of the West Indies in 2006, Sree burst into prominence on the tour of South Africa, later that year.

His match figures of eight for 99 at The Wanderers in that series earned him the Man-of-the-Match award and respect from the South Africans.

I have never seen anyone bowl out-swing at genuine pace with better control and a more perfect seam position than Sree demonstrated in that Test and the next one in Durban. That includes the great Dennis Lillee.

Top scalps

The most impressive part of his performances in those Tests was that he got their best players out; including Smith, Kallis and Amla on multiple occasions and de Villiers in Durban. He bowled equally well to the left and right-handers.

Sree, like most young fast bowlers, was inclined to get carried away with trying to bowl too fast. If he wasn’t doing that, he was trying to bowl too many variations in each over. Often, his bowling fluctuated with his emotional state.

Managing him was one of the great challenges that I faced in my time with the Indian team, but one that I confess I really enjoyed.

I spent a lot of time with Sree because I could see that he was a potential game-changer if only we could get him to add some emotional intelligence to the great skill he possessed.

My task was to educate him to believe that his game plan had to be about bowling good balls, good overs and good spells, rather than trying to bowl the magic ball every delivery.

As Daniel Coyle sagely said in his enlightening book The Talent Code, “to be truly creative, you have to be brave enough to be boring.”

By adding discipline to his bag of tricks and with total support from Rahul Dravid, Sree became the best fast bowler in the world for those few weeks. Sadly, injuries, physical and emotional, curtailed what should have been a brilliant international career.

Sadly, nobody has tried to see past Sreesanth’s negative aspects to discover the positives. Apart from being a match-winner, he is an entertainer who can inspire teammates and delight spectators.

With imaginative selection and good management, Sree could still make a difference to India’s chances in any format because he is a proven wicket-taker and, more importantly, he gets the best players out.

A fit and performing Sreesanth would certainly be one of the first players I would pick.

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