Wriddhiman Saha ‘seals’ his place in the Test team: After being in the shadows of the former Indian skipper, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Bengal wicket-keeper-batsman, Wriddhiman Saha, became a regular in the Playing XI for the longer version of the game, post the ‘sudden’ retirement of 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.
However, during the home-Test series against England early this year, 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 Gujarat stumper, 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, the debate of ‘Saha vs Patel’ started surfacing and was ‘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.
Back in 2016, Saha accompanied Team India to West Indies as the main wicket-keeper. In the First Test played at Antigua, he became the third Indian wicket-keeper to be involved in six dismissals in an innings, when he held on to the catches of Braithwaite, Chandrika, Bravo, Samuels, holder and also stumped Bishoo in the first innings which India won by an innings and 92 runs.
The Third Test played at the Darren Sammy National Cricket Stadium at Gros Islet, brought out the best of Saha’s batting abilities. Going into bat at situation when India had lost five wickets for only 126 runs in their first innings, the wicket-keeper-batsman got together with Ravichandran Ashwin and added 213 runs for the sixth wicket.
In the process Saha notched up his maiden Test century which came in a critical situation.
Playing in the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2017, Saha had been excelling in, both, behind the stumps and in front of it.
Though he could not contribute much with the bat in the first two matches, his wicket-keeping skills came to the fore when he took an excellent catch to dismiss the Aussie wicket-keeper, Mathew Wade, in the second Test at Bengaluru.
The series has been a ‘roller-coaster’ for both the teams, going into the third Test at Ranchi with the series 1-1.
The Ranchi was a very hard fought one.
After allowing the opposition to score 451 runs in their first innings, India got a reasonably good start with the opening pair putting up 91 runs before one of them departed.
Another 100 runs later, the other opener left and within no time India lost six wickets with 328 runs on the board.
The ‘rock-solid’ Cheteshwar Pujara was holding on to one end and patiently adding to the score. It was at this stage that Saha joined him in the middle.
The duo put up a ‘record breaking’ partnership of 199 runs for the 7th wicket partnership.
Saha, playing an innings of 329 minutes, facing 233 balls, notched up 117 runs with the help of 8 fours and a six. This was his third Test century.
This partnership helped India take a lead of 152 runs, but then the match ended in a draw.
Speaking to Sanjay Manjrekar after his epic innings, Saha said, “This is the best among the three (centuries) I have. We badly needed a partnership. My partnership began slowly and then he (Pujara) he made 200 and I got my century.”
“I didn’t really change the way I batted. I’m backing myself more now. When I am playing my sweep shots or stepping out, I used to have doubts earlier in my career. Now the team is supporting me. It has a good effect on me,” he added.
Saha’s good work and efforts go to establish the fact that he has virtually warded off any kind of competition for the position of wicket-keeper for the Test squad and has virtually ‘sealed’ his place, for now.
BCCI also acknowledged the efforts of Saha and have promoted him to the List B (from List C) in the Annual Players’ Contract.
Wriddhiman Saha is here to stay.