For any cricketer comebacks are always tough. It applies to Dinesh Karthik too.
It is nearly 13 years since Karthik made his international debut as a 19-year-old, against Australia in a Test in Mumbai.
That match was over in three days, and the pitch was the focus as Indian spinners bowled out Australia for 93 in the second innings as they failed to chase 107 on a turning track.
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Since then, Karthik's presence in the Indian team has been intermittent. He never could cement his place in the national side as MS Dhoni arrived on the scene same year - 2004.
Now, after two ODIs against New Zealand, Karthik seems to have made his case for a permanent berth in the middle order.
The Tamil Nadu batsman hit 37 and 64 not out impressing the team management and captain Virat Kohli. His unbeaten half century in Pune guided India to a series-levelling six-wicket victory yesterday (October 25).
In the current squad, you can call Karthik the senior most as he had the first taste of international cricket experience among the 15 men selected for Kiwi ODIs.
Also read: Shikhar praises Karthik after win in Pune
Karthik made his international debut in November 2004 and Dhoni made entry into top-flight cricket in December 2004.
The Tamil Nadu wicketkeeper-batsman debuted under Rahul Dravid's captaincy and was also part of India's historic 1-0 Test series win in England in July-August 2007.
His international career never took off and so far he has played only 23 Tests, 75 ODIs and 10 T20Is.
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Despite not getting chances at the international level, Karthik did not lose hope. He kept working hard and was consistent with the bat in domestic tournaments.
The performances in domestic circuit caught the eye of the selectors and he was rewarded with a berth in India's Champions Trophy squad in June this year. He came in as a late replacement for the injured Manish Pandey. However, he did not get a game as India finished runners-up.
With India looking for a soild batsman in the middle order - at number four, Karthik seems to have fit the bill perfectly, at least in the two matches against New Zealand, in Mumbai and Pune.
He came in for praise from team-mate Shikhar Dhawan, who said he is best suited for the middle order.
Though questions were asked why Karthik was preferred over youngster KL Rahul, the righ-hander has proved his critics wrong. Even former captain Sourav Ganguly had criticised Karthik's selection over Rahul.
Now, Karthik's journey at the international stage might prolong if he continues to impress with the bat. And that might hamper Rahul's chances of a ODI comeback.
Karnataka's Rahul, a specialist opener, was tried in the middle order during Sri Lanka ODIs but he failed. And subsequently lost his place in ODI squad.
Karthik's one more advantage is that he can keep wickets too. If the selectors and team management want to rest Dhoni, then he can take over the big gloves.
From 2004 to 2017, Karthik's cricket journey has hit a lot of roadblocks but now might be the time for him to experience a smooth ride, till ICC World Cup 2019.