Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity is an often-used phrase, at times overused; but for Srikar Bharat, his lucky break was exactly that. Being on the fringes for a while, Bharat got the opportunity to display his primary skill as a wicketkeeper even before a debut was in sight when India’s first-choice wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha had to opt-out of Day three’s play against New Zealand at Kanpur on Saturday with a stiff neck. Bharat has always been regarded highly as a wicketkeeper and his batting has been on the rise in the recent past. However, with the flamboyant Rishabh Pant and Saha around, Bharat was and still is way down the pecking order. Then again, strange things happen. Not long ago net bowlers travelling to Australia made their debuts for India and went on to play crucial roles in a historic triumph.
Bharat’s three dismissals on day three showed he is more than capable of handling himself at the highest level. Will Young batting on 89 had got a thickish edge while trying a cut and Bharat stayed low and made a tough catch look rather easy. Moreover, when the Umpire nodded in disagreement it was Bharat who convinced skipper Ajinkya Rahane to go for the review and India had their first breakthrough. He did have a had minor blip on his first day when he could not hold on to tough chance down the leg off Ross Taylor, then again, moving down the leg and blinded by the batsman, the fact that Bharat even managed to get in a position to get a glove to the faint edge speaks volumes of his technique against spinners on a tough wicket to keep. Next delivery he had his redemption and pouched as an easy one. His third dismissal, a stumping off the well-set Tom Latham, was no fuss one and again showcasing that the Visakhapatnam-born can keep his calm under pressure. He was also quite entertaining on the mic as well and fair to say he made the most of the unexpected opportunity he has got as substitute keeper.
In terms of skill the 37-year-old Saha is by far India’s best, maybe the world’s best, and in 24-year-old Rishabh Pant India have a game-changer with the bat. And this is where Bharat, 28, finds himself in a conundrum and without an international game to his name till date. In 2018, Bharat was very close to finding a place in the Indian Test squad that was touring England at the time, but the selectors opted to elevate Pant, and rest as they say, is history. A concussion to Pant in 2020 in Australia has also raised hopes of an ODI cap, but that too did not materialise. But, with this timely reminder, Bharat has put himself back on the radar and with Pant rested for the series, and if Saha is unable to recover in time for the Mumbai Test, Bharat could be in line for a much-awaited debut. And if Saha is fit and comes back for the remainder of the series, Bharat could very well find himself losing out and once again waiting for the lucky break, again.
Who is KS Bharat?
Born in Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh, the 27-year old is almost a veteran in first-class cricket with 78 matches under his belt. The wicket-keeper batsman has an aggregate of 4283 runs in 123 innings at an average of 37.24 including 9 hundred and 23 fifties. Making his first-class debut at the age of 19 against Kerala in 2012-13, Bharat came into the limelight a couple of years later in 2015 when he set a record in the Ranji Trophy becoming the first Indian wicket-keeper batsman to notch up a triple hundred in the country’s premier first-class tournament. Opening the innings, Bharat amassed a colossal 308 off just 311 deliveries for Andhra Pradesh against Goa in Ongole in February 2015.
His ability to score quickly and get a large part of his runs in boundaries landed him a contract of INR 10 lakh with the Delhi Daredevils in the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2015. Bharat aggregated a whopping 758 runs in 9 matches in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy. He registered one more hundred (apart from his record triple) and two fifties and has been a consistent scorer for Andhra in the prestigious tournament. His other standout hundred came against Vidarbha in the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy in Vijayawada. Batting at number five, he scored an unbeaten 102 in the second innings to save the match for his team.
Bharat has been on the fringes of the senior team for the last few years now. He was part of the India Blue squad for the 2018-19 Duleep Trophy and was added to India’s Test squad for the second Test against Bangladesh - again as a cover for Saha - in November 2019. He also found himself in the Indian ODI squad for the home series against Australia in January 2020 after Rishabh Pant had suffered a concussion. Bharat has a decent record in List A cricket with 1351 runs in 51 matches at an average of 28.14 and a strike rate of almost 70 with three hundred but his best returns have been in the longer format. He produced a scintillating 142 off just 139 deliveries - with 11 fours and 8 sixes - against the England Lions in Wayanad in an unofficial Test in February 2019.
He was one of the five standby players in India’s Test squad for the home series against England in early 2021. Bharat was purchased by the Royal Challengers Bangalore for INR 20 lacs in the auctions in February this year and played eight matches for the franchise scoring 191 runs at 38.20 and striking at 122.43 with one half-century to his name. Bharat is widely considered as one of the best keepers in the domestic circuit for his agility and skills behind the stumps.