Wicketkeeper Batsman Saha steps out of Dhoni's shadow
Kolkata, 05 October 2016: For the longest of time when Mahendra Singh Dhoni was in complete charge of the Indian team, it was hard for aspiring wicketkeepers to cement a place in the squad. Barring an odd chance here or there, they simply had to live with the regret of having born in an era of one of India's finest captains.
In the limited opportunities they got, they had to perform out of their skins to stay relevant. Dinesh Karthik, one of the luckiest among the lot to play alongside Dhoni in ODIs as a specialist batsman, squandered the chances while Parthiv Patel’s inconsistent work with the gloves meant Dhoni simply had little competition.
As Dhoni kept traversing from one country to another, leading India to some memorable wins and heart-breaking losses, Wriddhiman Saha kept nurturing his ambitions with the belief that he will get his moment under the sun. And he got it in the January of 2015 when Dhoni abruptly ended his Test career.
Although Saha had played three Test matches — all by chance — the clarity of being the main guy rather than a reserve has done his confidence a world of good. The two Test matches in Australia during 2014-15 tour and his subsequent rise over the last one year offer some evidence.
In the first Test at Adelaide — he played because Dhoni failed to recover from a thumb injury — Saha had a great chance to become an unlikely hero. With India looking to pull off a sensational win over Australia in pursuit of a mammoth 364 runs and stand-in skipper Virat Kohli going great guns at the other end, Saha’s go-for-broke approach misfired. Having just hit Nathan Lyon for a six and a four in a space of three balls, he tried one shot too many to be bowled in the same over.
In the fourth Test with Dhoni having just called quits, Saha showed a lot more composure. In the first innings he played a patient 96-ball 35 and although he had a duck in the second essay, the assuredness in Saha was somewhat visible.
He has since grown from strength to strength. In the tour to Sri Lanka last year where he got injured in the second Test, Saha slammed two half-centuries to average 43.66. The Freedom Series against South Africa last year wasn’t great for him but he enjoyed a brilliant tour to the West Indies this July-August.
After scores of 40 and 47 in the opening two Tests, he struck his maiden century (104) to hole India out of trouble in the third Test. India went on to win that match to pocket the series 2-0 where the 31-year-old averaged 51.25.
Against New Zealand, playing in front of his home crowd, Saha became the talk of the town. He became the first Indian wicketkeeper to register unbeaten half-centuries in both innings of a Test and second international ever after West Indian Gerry Alexander.
It’s not Saha’s batting alone that has evolved over the last couple of years. His keeping skills have been top-notch too. A man of few words who goes about his job unassumingly, the technically sound Saha rarely drops anything, be it the spinners or pace bowlers.
“Saha is the best 'keeper in the country and he is doing a great job,” Kohli said of the Bengal player who picked his maiden man of the match award against New Zealand in the second Test. “He's wonderful behind the stumps and can bat. He backs himself and can bat with the tail. Backs himself to play his shots.”
Saha, on his part, felt he was just dong his job. “I am very happy about winning the series and getting my first man of the match award. When I was out there, I was thinking about defending the good balls and hitting the bad balls. I didn't score in the Kanpur match and so took my time in the beginning. I did my job behind the stumps; nothing much. I watch the ball up to the last minute and use soft hands.”
Enjoying the confidence of his skipper and knowing he’s now the undisputed choice in Tests, Saha is blossoming into a valuable asset for Team India.
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