‘Floating’ keepers stump Karnataka

‘Floating’ keepers stump Karnataka

BR Sharath is one of the three wicketkeepers in the Karnataka set-up aiming to earn a permanent spot in the playing XI. DH FILE PHOTO

For the third straight season, domestic heavyweights Karnataka don’t have a fixed wicketkeeper. It’s an unfamiliar, if not completely worrisome, scenario for a State that has had a steady supply of quality wicketkeepers for decades. 

Ever since the legendary Syed Kirmani left the stage, Karnataka have had able successors in Sadanand Vishwanath, Avinash Vaidya, Somashekar Shiraguppi, and Thilak Naidu. From late 2000s, CM Gautam was a permanent fixture behind the stumps for Karnataka till his exit at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. Currently, the three youngsters -- BR Sharath, Sharath Srinivas, and Shrijith KL - haven’t done enough to cement their place in the side for varying reasons.

Going by the selection patterns of these stumpers, it appears Karnataka are confused as to whether they want a gloveman who can bat a bit or a batsman who can also keep.

“With the advent of the T20 game, young wicketkeepers are trying to consolidate their position by doubling up as a batsman,” felt former India stumper Sadanand Vishwanath who emphasised on treating wicketkeeper’s as a specialist position.

“The likes of Sharath Srinivas and BR Sharath are bright but I feel they don’t have an idea about their role in the side. The coaches must tell what is expected out of them. If you ask me, the duo should focus on latching on to the tough catches and pulling off quick stumpings. And along with that, they must improve their batting. Wicketkeeping is a specialist position, especially in first-class cricket,” he explained. 

BR Sharath enjoyed a dream start when he slammed a counter-attacking ton against Vidarbha in 2018 in Nagpur to become the first Karnataka batsman since Barrington Rowland in 1999 to score a century on Ranji Trophy debut. The 24-year-old has a soft pair of hands and in his brief career of 45 games across formats, Sharath has done a decent job with the big gloves. 

Inconsistency

It’s his numbers with the bat that tell a sorry tale though.

After his century on debut, the right-hander doesn’t have a single 50-plus score in his next 10 Ranji games. In the T20s, he averages just 15.15 from 14 games with just one half-century under his belt. Having collected 526 runs from 20 games at an average of 40.46 with three half-centuries, his best performance has come in the List A format. Sharath’s high-risk style of play is the reason behind his inconsistency. 

Sharath Srinivas is being preferred only for the longer format and rightly so. While he isn’t a free stroke-maker, the 24-year-old has the temperament to grind it out in the gruelling four-day battles. To cement his place in the side, he needs to produce knocks, like his predecessors Naidu and Gautam did consistently, that can make a difference.

Shrijith made his Karnataka debut in the just concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali. The southpaw came in with some good numbers at the age-group level but endured a forgettable tournament with three ducks.  “The KSCA selection policy needs improvement,” another former Karnataka wicketkeeper told DH.

“The players need to be given a long rope to boost their confidence. Somebody like Sharath Srinivas, who I feel is suited for four-day games, has played just nine matches from two seasons. BR Sharath’s game appears apt for the white-ball format but in the Mushtaq Ali, they preferred a make-shift wicketkeeper in Shrijith. If you keep benching them after every two failures, they lose hope,” he reasoned.

Karnataka found a temporary solution to the problem when India international KL Rahul was available for the white ball tournaments last season. The classy opener doubled up as a wicketkeeper in Karnataka’s triumphant Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali campaigns as the management was able to play an extra all-rounder in the XI. 

It’s not logical to expect to have the services of Rahul every season. It’s important for Karnataka to fix the issue on a long-term basis.