In a press conference on February 15, the BCCI announced two 15-member squads for India's ODI series against Australia and to the surprise of many, Dinesh Karthik was not present in any one of them.
The five-match ODI series against Australia will be India's final international assignment before the upcoming 2019 cricket World Cup and hence the absence of Karthik has put a serious question mark over his participation in the quadrennial event. The person who has directly benefitted from Karthik's exclusion is young wicketkeeper-batsman Rishabh Pant.
Pant has been dubbed to be the next big thing in Indian cricket since he burst on to the scene a couple of years ago but has flattered to deceive in coloured clothing for the Indian cricket team. Pant made his India debut as a T20 player in 2017 after earning a reputation for being a destructive batsman but is yet to convince with his performances. But Pant failed to translate his domestic and IPL form in the international stage which made him an irregular fixture in the India side.
In this time, Karthik cemented his place in the Indian T20 side by pulling off a miraculous run chase in the final of the Nidahas Trophy when he hit a last-ball six to win India the trophy that looked out of reach just 11 balls ago. But Karthik was never afforded an extended run in the team and he has always been a stopgap option for Virat Kohli's team.
Following the Nidahas Trophy heist, Karthik, it seemed, was being looked at as a finisher in the wake of MS Dhoni's waning powers to single-handedly win matches at the death. But in the series against England last year, Karthik was asked to bat at number 4 and before he could settle down in his new role, he was cast aside. It was obvious that the KKR captain was only filling in for Ambati Rayudu who failed the yo-yo test.
Karthik was once again pushed back to the finisher's slot when Asia Cup rolled around in September last year and in Dubai, barring the odd game, Karthik fulfilled his role in the lower order very well. But in the series against the Windies that followed, Pant was viewed ahead of Karthik. The selectors said that they have seen what Karthik brings to the table and they will now give Pant an opportunity.
It was understandable why the selectors wanted to have Pant in their side. He is young, exuberant, fearless and expressive. The southpaw is a natural stroke player and has an "x-factor" that indicates unrelenting potential. Pant, when he gets going, can single-handedly change games – that was the belief. But the 21-year-old did not get going and was soon dropped for Karthik in the series against Australia and New Zealand. He did not help himself by playing some inexplicable shots – from fearless to senseless – the onlookers quickly wanted dependability over uncertainty.
On either side of the Tasman Sea Down Under, Karthik played his part very well and his only failure came in the match when everyone failed and India got bundled out for 92. Karthik's consistency made everyone feel that he was one of those who had booked their flight to England in May. But the selectors dropped a bomb on Friday when they did not include Karthik in the ODI squad. This seemed to shock everyone that Karthik, despite doing everything asked of him, does not have his World Cup fate in his own hands.
Now that Rishabh Pant has been picked, and needs game time to be assessed for a World Cup spot, I wonder whose place he will get. Jadhav? Or Rayudu? Irrespective of that, I hope this is not a final decision on Dinesh Karthik because that will be very hard on him— Harsha Bhogle (@bhogleharsha) February 15, 2019
Numbers don't lie ?— KolkataKnightRiders (@KKRiders) February 15, 2019
Since Feb 2017, @DineshKarthik has been not out in 7⃣ out of 1⃣0⃣ ODIs ?? have chased & won
Among those who've stayed not out in winning chases the most, none in the world have bettered his avg. of 272, with only Kohli scoring at a higher SR than DK's 82.92 pic.twitter.com/PuDF22CJbP
Dear @BCCI kindly select @DineshKarthik over @RishabPant777 in WC squad as DK has been consistent performer over past year.. Rishabh has still time to play WC !! I would select experience over talent any day. DK has done nothing wrong not to be selected for WC squad.— Mitanshu Jani (@MitanshuJani) February 16, 2019
It seems the selectors want to take another punt with Pant. That is not to say that Karthik's door is firmly closed but it is certain that his spot depends on another man's performance. The selection meeting was attended by Kohli and Ravi Shastri which seems to suggest, at the moment, India is fascinated by the powers of the unknown over the certainty of the proven.