Wriddhiman Saha ‘reasserts’ himself: The Bengal wicket-keeper-batsman has been a regular in the Playing XI for the longer version of the game, post the ‘sudden’ retirement of the then skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, midway through the Test series against Australia in 2014 played Down Under.
Saha did not encounter any kind of competition for his position. Wicket-keeper batsmen like Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel were all ‘forgotten’ names, while the likes of Naman Ojha, C Gautham, Sanju Samson, Rishabh Pant were never looked at from the ‘Test’ angle. Robin Uthappa was never in the reckoning.
It all happened during the home-Test series against England, that in the Second Test, Saha picked up an injury and had to be out of the Playing XI.
The selectors’ really ‘pulled up ace from the sleeve,’ picking up the diminutive Parthiv Patel for the remaining three Test matches. However, this move of the selectors did surprise quite a few.
However, Patel, who returned to the Test team after a hiatus of 8 years, came with a huge responsibility. He had to justify his selection and also prove that he was still a ‘force to reckon with.’
Featuring in four innings from three Test matches in the series (remaining unbeaten once), Patel had scored 195 runs (with a couple of half-tons) at an average of 65 and personal best of 71 runs.
With this kind of a performance, it would be gross injustice to Patel, if he were to be dropped from the Test squad.
With the debate of ‘Saha vs Patel’ doing the rounds, Patel, in addition to his performance in the Test series, also led his team Gujarat, from the front, to win the Ranji Trophy 2016-17 title.
With all-odds favouring Patel, the Bengal wicket-keeper had to do something exemplary to be in the selectors’ radar.
Opportunity knocked at his door when he was picked up for the Rest of India Team to play in the Irani Cup against the Ranji champions, Gujarat led by Patel.
Unable to open his account in the first innings, Saha ‘came into his elements’ in the second knock.
He notched up his maiden double-ton in First Class cricket, scoring an unbeaten 203* runs off 272 balls with the help of 26 fours and 6 sixes in a stay 346 minutes at the crease.
Saha came back into limelight with this innings, reminding the selectors’ of his match fitness, post his injury and also of him being in contention for the wicket-keeper slot in the longer format.
The selectors have always maintained the view that Saha was their ‘first choice’ for Tests and accordingly selected him to play in the ‘one-off’ Test against Bangladesh, currently on at Hyderabad.
Taking advantage of a ‘not so deadly’ bowling attack, Saha played another very meaningful innings.
Coming in at the fall of Rahane’s (82) wicket, with the team score at 456 runs for the loss of 4 wickets, Saha established three useful partnerships.
Kohli (204) and Saha added 39 runs for the fifth-wicket and then for the sixth-wicket Saha and Ashwin (34) added 74 runs. For the unbroken seventh-wicket, he added 118* runs alongwith Ravindra Jadeja (60*).
Playing an innings full of character, facing 155 deliveries, Saha remained unbeaten on 106* runs (his second Test century in 31 innings), aided by 7 fours and 2 sixes.
Saha’s innings helped India declare their first innings after piling up a mammoth 687 runs for the loss of 6 wickets.
With two back-to-back stellar innings (in Irani Cup and in the first innings of the ongoing Test) Saha has clearly justified the confidence reposed in him by the selectors’ and also established his credentials as the ‘first choice wicket-keeper’ in the longer format of the game.