Less than two days remain for the third Test between England and India to get underway and all the signs point towards young Rishabh Pant being handed the wicketkeeping gloves for the visitors at Trent Bridge.
Things had been looking up of late for Karthik as his heroic showings in the Nidahas T20 tri-series in Sri Lanka along with injury troubles for Wriddhiman Saha paved the way for his return to the Test squad after a gap of more than eight years.
His first innings in the five-day format since 2010 fetched him only four runs in Afghanistan’s inaugural Test but Saha’s long-term injury meant that Karthik was on the plane to England as first-choice wicketkeeper.
What has followed though in England, does not make pretty reading for the 33-year-old. Scores of 0, 20, 1 and 0 have ensued from the bat of Karthik while his glove work behind the stumps has almost bordered on the amateur.
Criticism have been directed at Karthik from many quarters but perhaps none of them have been as scathing as former skipper Sourav Ganguly’s.
“I think Rishabh Pant has to come into this side as Dinesh Karthik looks woefully out-of-form. I saw him (Karthik) in the nets and he couldn’t put bat to ball. I think a left-hander in the side will help the team and Pant isn’t scarred by India’s losses and he is also capable of changing the course of a game,” Ganguly said on Sky Sports following India’s innings loss at Lord’s in the second Test.
Karthik has not been the only Indian batsmen to have failed miserably in the Test series so far but given the fact that 20-year-old Pant has been breathing down his neck with some fine performances for India ‘A’ in their recent shadow tour of England, his position seems to be the most untenable of the lot.
Pant’s breakthrough came with a stupendous IPL campaign for the Delhi Daredevils where he blitzed 684 runs in 14 innings at an average greater than 35 and a strike-rate near 163.
While his game seems more suited to the limited-overs formats, he has since given ample evidence that he has what it takes to succeed at red-ball cricket.
In the two first-class matches that India ‘A’ played on their tour of England, Pant registered three half-centuries in his four innings including two against an England Lions attack containing the likes of Sam Curran and Jamie Porter.
His ability to translate his limited-overs form to first class cricket earned him glowing praise from India ‘A’ coach Rahul Dravid.
“Rishabh has shown he could bat differently. He has the temperament and skills to bat differently,” said Dravid. “He is always going to be an attacking player, but reading of the situation when one is playing red-ball cricket is required. We are glad he has been picked in the national team and I hope he takes this maturity and builds thereon,” Dravid had told ESPNCricinfo upon the completion of the tour.
At his age, Karthik was never going to be a long-term solution to India’s wicketkeeping hopes and when Saha does inevitably return, it will not be a surprise to see the Tamil Nadu man drop down the pecking order.
Given India’s extreme batting frailties at the moment, a quick-fire 50 from Pant batting at number seven could be gold dust for Virat Kohli and his men.
Such are the dire straits that India currently are in at the moment that a left-field move like bringing in Pant seems like the only viable solution to mend the batting woes.
It would be a tad unfair on Karthik given no other batsmen apart from Kohli have covered themselves in glory but Pant’s unorthodox approach to batting might just be the remedy to India’s current ailments.
Conventional Test batsmen like Murali Vijay, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane have hardly been pulling up trees against the moving Duke ball. It might be time for India to finally throw caution to the wind as they look to salvage the series at Trent Bridge.
Their meek surrender by an innings at Lord’s following their 31-run loss at Edgbaston has left the visitors with a mountain to climb in the remainder of the Test series.
This wasn’t how it was meant to be. Ever since their ascension to the No1 ranked Test outfit following an impressive home record, all eyes have been on how India perform in their tougher overseas tours of the likes of South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia (SENA).
After India showed some promise in a hard-fought 1-2 defeat in South Africa earlier this year, optimism was abound ahead of their Test series in England. After just two Tests, all that optimism has vanished already and instead been replaced with a familiar sense of doom and gloom in tough overseas tours.
It has been a collective failure from the batsmen which has been the feature of the Indian team so far in the Test series. As all eyes now turn towards the third Test at Trent Bridge which gets underway on August 18, tough questions need to be asked of Kohli and his men.
The most burning question of them all pertains to India’s ill-thought out preparations for such tours. When the team toured South Africa at the start of the year, they bafflingly went into the first Test without playing a single warm-up match to prepare themselves for the three-match series.
Just like in Edgbaston, a defeat that very well could have been a victory ensued in the first Test at Cape Town. One would have thought that the Indian team management would have learned their lessons from that debacle when the itinerary for the England tour was drawn up.
However, the fact that the ODI and T20I series preceded the five Tests seems to have been enough preparations for the visitors who opted to play only one red-ball warm-up game against Essex. That four-day game was ultimately shortened to three days at the insistence of the Indian team management.
In contrast, Pakistan had played two warm-up games against Kent and Northampton when they came calling to England for a two-Test series earlier this summer. That was on the back of a historic one-off Test against Ireland at Dublin. Suffice to say, Sarfraz Ahmed’s men were much better prepared for the Test series which the ultimately ended up drawing at 1-1.
The difference in approaches from the two teams was stark. While Pakistan reaped the fruits of prioritizing the warm-up red-ball games, India are paying dearly for their sheer overconfidence.
To bank on the idea that the three ODIs and as many T20Is would have put the team in great stead for a five-match Test series is laughable to say the least if not downright foolish. The visitors are now realising the hard way that the limited-overs clashes are a world away from the five-day format and they have no one but themselves to blame.
India have always been notoriously poor travelers but despite that, there seems to be no change in their approach when it comes to preparations for these tours. They only have to look to the Australian team and their preparations for the 2017 tour of India for a blueprint on tackling tough overseas sojourns.
Having been embarrassingly whitewashed 0-3 in Sri Lanka a year before, Steve Smith and his Australia side left no stone unturned ahead of the four-match series against India. The team conducted a hot-weather training camp in the UAE prior to flying to India as they looked to come to terms with the spinning pitches in the subcontinent.
The Aussies ultimately ended up giving a huge scare to the Indian team before narrowly losing the Test series 2-1.
Kohli has always talked about the importance of setting India’s overseas record right but his and team management’s actions have not matched that ambition. Before the start of the Lord’s Test, the India skipper spoke about how the problems plaguing his batsmen are more ‘mental’ rather than technical deficiencies.
Had there been more thought put into the preparations for the series, his batsmen could well have been afforded more time to make those ‘mental adjustments’. Now, Kohli and his men have become the first subcontinent team to lose a Test at Lord’s since their own loss in the tour of 2011 and they only need to look inwards to know the reason why.
The build-up to the second Test between England and India at Lord’s had been surrounded with talks of whether India would play a second spinner in the line-up.
After all, Ravichandran Ashwin had made the England batsmen sing to his tune in the first Test at Edgbaston while the ongoing heat wave in the UK was showing no signs of relenting.
Come the first day at Lord’s, the heavens opened up over London as the heat wave made way for the customary English summer rains.
That allowed both captains to keep their cards close to their chests when it came to naming the playing XIs for the Test.
The second day, which was originally forecast to be the best day weather-wise, brought with it some more rains as a delayed start ensued.
Despite the onset of the rains, India skipper Virat Kohli chose to go with two spinners with Kuldeep Yadav replacing pacer Umesh Yadav in the playing XI.
What followed was the stuff of nightmares for the visitors as once again, Kohli’s luck deserted him at the toss with Joe Root having no hesitation in having a bowl first in overcast conditions.
The stage had been set for one of Lord’s favourite performers James Anderson.
With the skies wearing a ominous grey look and a bright red Duke ball in hand, there is perhaps no graver sight for a batsman in England than to see Anderson steaming up the slope at the iconic cricket ground.
He got to work straight away as he brought the packed house at Lord’s to its feet with only the fifth delivery of the day.
A flabbergasted Murali Vijay could only look on in disbelief as a gem of a late out-swinger took out his off-stump.
The tone had been set for what was to follow as India’s worst fears were about to come true.
Kohli had been at pains to mention that the shortcomings displayed by India’s batsmen at Edgbaston had been more on the ‘mental’ side rather than technical.
Based on the 35 odd overs that were bowled on Friday, the Indian skipper could very well have been bluffing rather than being serious.
For England’s pacers were absolutely unrelenting as they kept pegging away at the ever-dangerous line just outside off-stump which has been Anderson’s bread and butter since he was a toddler.
The techniques of the batsmen, including Kohli’s himself, were cruelly exposed as edges kept flying towards the slip cordon.
England kept landing the ball in the sweet spot and India’s batsman kept erring with each passing swipe.
Cheteshwar Pujara resisted the English attack briefly on his Test return but his run-out woes came back to haunt him and render his 25-ball stay at the crease effectively meaningless.
Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane too put up a brief resistance before being sucked in towards poking at inviting deliveries outside the off stump. They took the bait and paid the ultimate price.
That Ashwin ended up as the top-scorer tells you all you need to know about the sorry state that is India’s batting.
The mantra for England’s pacers had been simple – keep pegging away at the off-stump and let India’s technical shortcomings rear its ugly head.
Now, after effectively just a session and a half of actual play in the Test, India are staring down the barrel and have been left with a mammoth mountain to climb.
To add insult to their injury, they will now have the services of just two specialist pacers and Hardik Pandya on a pitch where England spinner Adil Rashid could very well have stayed back at Yorkshire without his absence even registering.
It was a perfect storm and a dash of James Anderson that hit India with full force on Friday.
The script will be complete on Saturday should the sun come out and give England the perfect batting conditions to further deepen India’s misery.