When A team is routed in the manner India was at the Sinhalese Sports Club in Colombo it doesn't take long for detractors to begin the hunt for a scapegoat. With the bowlers having conceded 600 and the batsmen collectively failing save VVS Laxman it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work out that the soft target is Dinesh Karthik.
He did himself no favours by dropping two catches and then playing the worst possible shot. But the manner in which he was practising on Monday gave reason to believe that the team would not take a knee-jerk reaction but persist with him.
If they do back him, it will only be fair, for Karthik finds himself in an unenviable position. He is only playing this Test series because Mahendra Singh Dhoni pulled out and once the ODI captain returns Karthik will be back to playing for Tamil Nadu. A strong performance would certainly have helped him to make a case, but there was little chance that he would be able to do enough to keep Dhoni out.
Karthik has shown himself to be a strong character in the past and is by no stretch of imagination a clumsy wicketkeeper. Although not as brutal as Dhoni, Karthik is a fluent and capable batsman to boot. When he first burst on the scene his wicketkeeping skills were well showcased by some sharp catching and nimble-footed stumpings against England in the one-day series in 2004. In early 2005 he was unlucky not to make a Test hundred, being out on 94 against Pakistan.
A string of poor scores on the following tour to Zimbabwe cost Karthik his place and Dhoni has been firmly ensconced since he made his Test debut in Bangladesh in late 2005.
Even then Karthik has managed to sidle into the Test team, as an opening batsman rather than behind the stumps. Karthik had a strong run at the top of the order and was asked to keep wickets when Dhoni was injured in the Bangalore Test against Pakistan in late 2007. While he did not do anything special behind the stumps he managed a half-century and kept his place for the tour of Australia where he did not play a single game.
Coming into this series after Dhoni was granted official leave to rest by the BCCI, Karthik has said more than once that he realised he was merely warming the seat for Dhoni. But no cricketer likes to be dropped and he must have harboured slim hopes of performing spectacularly and delaying Dhoni's return. This may well be playing on his mind, causing him to be over-eager to impress and be the cause for his lapses behind the stumps. As a wicketkeeper the last thing you want to do is grab for the ball, or rise too quickly from the crouching position but it appeared that Karthik was guilty on both counts in the first Test. Technically this not a matter that Karthik can't sort out and he must already be reminding himself of the basics that brought him success.
Equally Karthik, a gregarious and outspoken person even at the worst of times, must be talking plenty to Paddy Upton, the mental conditioning coach, and his team-mates to ensure that the Colombo nightmare is left behind. Cricketers are a tight-knit lot and Karthik will have strong backers in the team.
Gautam Gambhir, the person chosen by the team to front the media on the day came out in resounding support. "It's important to support a player who has had a bad Test match. It's important to stand next to him and give him that confidence," he said. "It's not about individuals it's about the team. It's not that all 11 will have a good match, someone will have a bad one. He's a good player, and I have confidence in him to do well in the second Test."
Certainly, India can ill-afford any more dropped catches if they are to claw back lost ground and the wicketkeeper plays a central role in setting the tone for a fielding side.