Sometimes, you just need to be in the right place at the right time to make up for lost time.

Dinesh Karthik’s hurried arrival in South Africa for the third Test that started on Wednesday appears to be a New Year’s gift from the selectors. Karthik is not playing in Johannesburg but it’s an indication that he is one of the contenders for the second wicketkeeper’s slot after Wriddhiman Saha and not just a No.4 batsman in the One Day International (ODI) team.

In December, Karthik squandered an opportunity to prove his detractors wrong at Dharamsala (the first ODI vs Sri Lanka), as has often been the case in his chequered international career. India were in a precarious situation after losing both openers (Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan) in quick succession. In his 18-ball stay, however, Karthik scored nothing and was beaten by pace and swing several times.

“You can’t judge on just one innings. But I am yet to be convinced by the selectors’ choice of him as No.4. He has the talent and skill but somehow that never gets translated at the international stage," said Krishnamachari Srikkanth, a former Indian captain.

Karthik has been a giant in domestic cricket and it was hard to ignore his sustained brilliance (704 runs in the Ranji Trophy at an average of 54.51, 211 runs in the Duleep Trophy at 52.75, 607 runs in the Vijay Hazare Trophy at 86.71, as well as 202 runs in the Deodhar Trophy at 101) in the 2016-17 season.

Since the 2015 World Cup in Australia, India have tried as many as 11 players for the crucial No.4 slot in ODIs. Karthik’s selection for this position was perhaps least anticipated. Before he was recalled for one more time against New Zealand in October, Karthik had had just two 50-plus scores in his last 20 ODI innings.

“If you look at the composition of the team where (Virat) Kohli bats at No.3 and (M.S.) Dhoni at No.6, so they want someone like Karthik who can complement the contrasting batting styles of these two in the middle order. Karthik is a good runner between the wickets, can play the big shots, is good against both spinners and pacers," former India wicketkeeper Syed Saba Karim, general manager (cricket operations) of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, said earlier this month. Karim was also a selector from 2012-16.

“Ideally, you would want a second wicketkeeper-batsman keeping 2019 (World Cup) in mind even if you are convinced that Dhoni is going to play till then," says former India player and commentator Aakash Chopra. “The team can’t be unprepared for any eventuality in case (Dhoni decides to retire or is injured/unfit or out of form). Karthik is also solving your No.4 conundrum as of now."

So, is Karthik just a default option at this stage?

“Not really. DK’s fitness level is better than many of his competitors. It is more to do with experience and temperament and the same thing was done in Test cricket when Parthiv Patel was recalled," Karim had said.

“I don’t get too carried away by his domestic form. It was evident in the first match against Sri Lanka that he struggles against the moving ball or in challenging conditions," argues former chief selector Srikkanth.

“His real challenge will be this tour of South Africa, and, if he gets runs there, then that would be the turning point of his career," says Chopra.

When his ODI place was hanging by a thread, Karthik once again managed to hold on. Against Sri Lanka in the last ODI at Visakhapatnam, he made an unbeaten 26 off 31 balls. Just enough to survive till the South Africa ODI series this February.

Despite the mixed results, Karthik’s ODI batting average in 2017 was 61, which is more than double his career average (29.92), and that could be the proverbial silver lining for him.

Vimal Kumar is the author of Sachin: Cricketer Of The Century and The Cricket Fanatic’s Essential Guide. He tweets @vimalwa.

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