It’s time to give Wriddhiman Saha a splash of blue
T20 cricket has changed the game so much. It has changed the players who play the game too. Cricketers now look like (or at least present themselves) as no less than a movie star. Tattooed, bulging biceps, sharp beard and hairstyles and suave in looks. They might as well walk on to the field straight out of a movie set.
And then there’s one, somewhere in this group of big-muscle boys, who isn't one of them. One who doesn't even fit the bill of a modern day cricketer. But the one who goes about his job with perfection.
Wriddhiman Saha is from that rare and close-to-extinction breed. It has been the story of Saha’s life.
He has always been the second fiddle in an orchestra led by someone as charismatic and magical as MS Dhoni. And when you play second fiddle to MS, you are just there, merely present, with rare moments under the spotlight.
So, when MS decided to step down from test cricket, suddenly, the spotlight shifted. The second fiddle was now asked to lead. Someone who had grown so accustomed to living in the shadow of one of the finest wicket keepers in the world was now asked to fill his shoes.
A family sedan was asked to fill in for a V10 Turbo Charged supercar. Of course, it was tough.
Not only for Saha but for the viewers too. Every time Saha missed a chance there were comparisons. Every time he failed with the bat there were comparisons. The shadow was following Saha and for that coveted spot in Indian whites, he had to believe that he belonged.
But if you're Wriddhiman Saha, how do you believe? What makes you believe that you belong? What do you do to carve a niche for yourself for a spot in the team hitherto held by the best? You back yourself. Something that Saha took a lot of time to internalise. But once he did, there was no looking back.
A little before the West Indies tour in 2016, the Indian team management decided to demote Saha below Ashwin in the batting order. They had cause to do that. In 11 tests, Saha had scored 367 runs at 21.58.
In the 13 tests that followed, Saha scored 615 runs at an average of 47.30 which included two fifties and three hundreds. There’s Saha’s grit in a nutshell. But this was test cricket. You can take your time in tests, settle, allow your nerves to calm.
The modern day limited overs are nothing like it. They’re fast, things change at the blink of an eye and if you're not up to speed, you can lag behind quicker than you think.
How does Saha fit the bill in the limited overs? One answer to that is, he is surely India’s best wicket keeper after MS. He is quick, agile, and for 30 years of age, exceptionally fit.
Consider this for an example of his reflexes, Ravindra Jadeja picks up and throws the ball at Malinda Pushpakumara who successfully dodges it. But Saha, who is blinded by Pushpakumara, only sees the ball centimeters from him and yet manages to stop the ball. That’s as close to magic as it gets!
Also, as a batsman, Saha is more than handy in the limited overs. In 164 T20s, he has scored at a strike rate of almost 131 with an average of 25. Remember his almost match-winning century in IPL 2014 Final? He walked in to bat at 30-2 with Virender Sehwag and George Bailey back in the hut and scored 115* off 55 balls at 209.09 which included 10 fours and eight sixes.
India's chief selector MSK Prasad indicated that they have plans for as and when MS decides to retire from the shorter formats too. Saha must figure in those scheme of things. He is surely the safest wicketkeeper amongst the lot the selectors are considering.
Rishabh Pant may be a powerhouse batsman but surely needs more work on his keeping. Dinesh Karthik’s consistency with the bat can be an issue and Parthiv Patel’s glove work isn’t as good as Saha’s.
Saha conceded just four-byes in the first innings of the second test against Sri Lanka. In the second innings, with Jadeja and Ravi Ashwin spewing venom on a pitch that was puffing dust every time the ball landed on it, Saha conceded zero byes. 117 overs, zero byes!
Sure he isn’t as aesthetically stylish as MS. Sure he doesn't hit towering sixes. Sure he doesn't have a tattooed forearm or bulging biceps. But Saha is that assiduous student who will work for six hours if you ask him to work for five.
He is a workhorse.
He is good at his job. Pretty damn good! And he deserves another Indian jersey in his closet, this time with a splash of blue on it.