Thursday, October 05, 2006

How do we keep THEM?

Amidst stars old and new, shining and falling, promising and delivering, the performance of wicketkeepers of each of the three “India”s participating in this year’s Challengers’ trophy provoked a thought . How do we keep them?

Parthiv Patel first. We have seen his gloved journey from youthful brilliance to loss of lustre to losing the entire plot as a specialist keeper. All through that though he has showed impressive improvement in every outing with the bat. Aged 16, he saved a crucial away Test match on debut. Then on he kept building on his nudges and pushes to emerge as a dependable lower middle order bat who could score fluently either side of the wicket and, importantly, would not cower in adverse situations. He shone with the bat in his two Challenger matches this year (just as he did last year). His latest performances could have helped him pose serious threat for almost any keeper playing in the national side. But unfortunately it isn’t ‘any keeper’ that he is up against.

Parthiv’s continued rotten form with the gloves in 2004 brought us to Dinesh Karthik. In his 1st ODI he effected a fantastic airborne stumping [while falling away from the stumps] to tilt a low scoring close match in favour of India and thereafter most things that he and the other keepers in India (Dhoni included) have done could only cement the belief that Dinesh is arguably the best amongst Indian glovemen who can bat decently. Like Parthiv he does not cower in pressure situations either and demonstrated his qualities in front of the stumps in the 2005 Test series against Pakistan. And like Parthiv he’s only 21. Dinesh shone with the bat too in this Challenger trophy. But just like his predecessor (again) his efforts are also certain to go unrewarded.

When Dinesh Karthik got relieved from national duties he did not need to lose form with either bat or glove to get replaced by Mahendra Singh Dhoni in a one day squad. That would be true for any wicketkeeper in the history of one day internationals barring Adam Gilchrist. Dhoni proved just that point during the just-concluded 2006 Challenger series. Essentially Indian selectors are left with no choice but to refute the claims of a good keeper-batsman, Dinesh, and a decent batsman-keeper, Parthiv, for both ODI and Test selections because of the irresistible package that is MSD. And that may be a bit of a tragedy in the making.

There is little doubt in my mind that sooner or later Dhoni is going to become a full fledged middle order batsman in Tests and maybe even in the ODI’s at a more advanced age. In other words Dhoni will do a Dravid when he reaches thirty. [He should, if you ask me.] The role change may come due to a change in his batting temperament, or due to declining glovework in the face of added batting responsibity with increasing seniority, or both. That will open up a possibility of Karthik or Patel - even both - getting national call-up(s) for the specialist keeper’s role in Tests and / or one dayers half a decade hence. But can they keep themselves in the hunt for that long a period? Are they single minded enough to survive the guaranteed snub of the intervening years?

Indian cricket is notorious for letting young and promising cricketers lose heart and focus after their first brushes with failure. Out of a batch of 5 or 6 promising young cricketers inducted into the national cricket team in the mid 80’s only Azharuddin made it into the 90’s. It was the same with another batch of rookies in early 90’s of which only one Sourav Ganguly had the heart and the luck to make a grand comeback half a decade later.

This is one of those areas where the national selectors need to step in with a vision and decisive action plan for the future, a future that does not end with their respective tenures. They need to share that vision with the zonal cricket bodies and selection committees. They need to talk to the young aspirants and explain to them the vital role planned for them in the future provided they stay focussed.
A Colonel has been posted on the warfront and he knows that his job is far beyond everyday paperwork.
Keep the keepers focussed, Colonel. We will need them.

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