Have India missed a trick by omitting Srikar Bharat in South Africa?

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safari
22 Dec 2021 | 07:39 AM
authorAakash Sivasubramaniam

Have India missed a trick by omitting Srikar Bharat in South Africa?

India arrive in South Africa but 'Bharat' yet to take off from India

Till 19, Kona Srikar Bharat never kept wickets, or at least at a professional level. And once he did start keeping wickets, there was no looking back, as he was at the right place at the right time. Nine years later, Bharat has already represented India at the highest level – Test cricket – albeit as a substitute. 

Long seen as the successor for Wriddhiman Saha, Bharat’s debut in the Indian colours is one for the long wait. A month later, he finds himself wandering away from the mainstream squad, nowhere close to South Africa. The man he replaced in the New Zealand series – Saha – has not just played the second Test but also has found the ticket to South Africa. 


“I still remember Rahul Dravid raving about KS Bharat’s wicketkeeping skills. He told me that Bharat has good keeping skills, next only to Wriddhiman Saha in Indian cricket,” Laxman raved about Bharat on Star Sports. 

But it begs to wonder if it was the right choice from the Indian board, considering how they find themselves at a restructuring stage within the batting unit. With India grooming players like Mohammed Siraj, Hanuma Vihari and Shreyas Iyer to perfection in the past, it begs to wonder, why hasn’t the Bharat flight taken off yet. 

“I started respecting the [wicketkeeping] gloves. I never believed that with wicketkeeping, I can come so far. Whatever he has told me is actually coming true. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be having this chat," Bharat told ESPNCricinfo back in 2018. 

One of India’s problems in the past away from home has been the wicketkeeper position, where they have struggled as highlighted in England 2018. The point is never to find a replacement for Rishabh Pant but to have someone that could walk into the team without much firepower lost with the bat.

Bharat offers that, he offers the firepower that Saha hasn’t quite translated in Test cricket, he has mastered the art of gloves, earning the appreciation from several quarters. Even if you are looking at the statistics, he is the only wicketkeeper to score a triple century in the Indian domestic circuit against the red ball. 

“Personally, I love Test cricket, I love the challenges it brings: the changing conditions. The breaks, mentality stability you require. Five days, five conditions, wicket conditions that deteriorate. It is very unpredictable, that’s the greatness of the game. Test is the real flavour of cricket,” Bharat told Localwire.  

Yet, he now finds himself back on the fringe, that he seemingly had broken during the first Test against New Zealand in Kanpur, keeping in one of the toughest conditions in the country. 

Bharat: The wicketkeeper shows technique

MSK Prasad’s influence was always there, he saw the player, he was in direct contact with Krishna Rao, who knew the player very well. But seldom does that alone guarantee a place for a wicketkeeper in India. And Bharat trained, not just random training but very specific ones that would improve his wicketkeeping. 

After all, he was in the race to become India’s next wicketkeeper before Rishabh Pant took over the mantle. But what made him stand out, was his ability against spinners. Several thousand wicketkeepers are great against pace but only a few hundred are against spin and Bharat was one of them. In fact, he understood the nuances of spin bowling more than many wicketkeepers in the country.

Bharat has a good reach, has been quick in his movement and hand-eye coordination on par with some of the best wicketkeepers. His bye tally in England: six, showed why exactly he is rated highly on the Indian circuit. 

Over the last two years, Saha hasn’t largely been used as the first-choice wicketkeeper, with Pant’s influence on the batting aspect of the Test side. But it was not just that, Saha’s performance with the bat, in away conditions hasn’t quite been warranting, be it his performance in Adelaide or be it his away average of 27.28. 

With India grooming all other segments, it was a question to be asked, why not throw in Bharat? 

Bharat the batter provides the edge

In fact, until Bharat made his debut, albeit as a substitute, not many had kept a keen eye on his triple century. Every time he was on the verge of a debut, it was cut short by his bad share of luck. And it continued against New Zealand, with Saha returning as the wicketkeeper. 

In 19 of the innings aboard, Saha averages 20.58 against pace, with 12 dismissals, showing his vulnerability against the speedsters. The last time India played in South Africa, spin hardly played any role, which once again rings in the argument, should Bharat have been picked away from home?  



Having played 78 First-class games, Bharat averages 37.24, which isn’t nearly as good as the others in the country but his strike-rate, 59.5, shows that he isn’t afraid. He scores a boundary every 11.8th delivery. 

His ability to attack the ball is evidently visible (11.9 BPB), with 16 fifties and 4 centuries. In his nine years at the first-class level, Bharat has amassed 500+ runs in four seasons, crossed 300 runs in three and even in his worst season, has scored 247 runs, showing his ability as a batter. 

Bharat, in limited opportunity with the India A setup has shown that he is not just a brilliant wicketkeeper but could take the attack to the opposition with his swashbuckling batting display. India could have very easily been benefited from the wicketkeeper’s presence in South Africa.

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South Africa vs IndiaIndia tour of South Africa, 2021/22IndiaWriddhiman SahaSrikar Bharat

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