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“I find it really funny” – Wriddhiman Saha reacts to the constant speculation over his retirement  

Saha scored the bulk of GT's powerplay runs in IPL 2022. Image: Wriddhiman Saha
Saha scored the bulk of GT's powerplay runs in IPL 2022. Image: Wriddhiman Saha

Wriddhiman Saha loves to prove his naysayers wrong. Whenever questions are raised over his longevity, the Bengal wicketkeeper-batter responds with sparkling performances.

He scored a match-saving 61* with back pain in the Kanpur Test between India and New Zealand late last year, but was surprisingly axed from the Test squad prior to the two-match home series against Sri Lanka. What ensued was a controversy that shook Indian cricket and was covered extensively by the media.

Some also assumed that Saha’s IPL career was virtually over after he went unsold on the first day of the mega auction in February 2022. Gujarat Titans (GT), however, snapped him up for ₹1.9 crore the following day and offered him a chance to reaffirm his mettle, which he grabbed with both hands. Forging a strong opening partnership with Shubman Gill, Saha scored 317 runs in 11 matches at an average of 31.70 and a strike rate of 122.39, and thus proved to be a cornerstone in the IPL debutants’ title triumph.

At 37, Saha, arguably the finest gloveman in world cricket at present, looks as fit as ever and wants to continue playing at the highest level for a few more years. Sportskeeda recently caught up with Saha for an exclusive chat where he explained GT’s success mantra and took a dig at all those who constantly speculate about his retirement. He also played a rapid-fire round with us. Here are the excerpts:


Q: Congratulations on winning the IPL with Gujarat Titans. Tell us about the celebration.

Saha: We celebrated with an open-top bus parade and a team dinner in Ahmedabad on Monday, followed by a grand party thrown by the team owners in Mumbai on Tuesday. We were also felicitated by Gujarat CM Bhupendra Patel.

Q: Gujarat Titans were labelled ‘underdogs’ after the mega auction. How desperate was the team to prove the critics wrong?

Saha: Everyone said that Gujarat bought discarded and unsold players, but here we are (laughs)! We never tried to prove anyone wrong. It was business as usual for us and we kept things simple by taking one match at a time. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and we fully respect that.

Q: You’ve been a part of two IPL-winning teams. What separates a champion side from others?

Saha: For a franchise to have a successful season, you need a lot of players to contribute. The champion sides are never dependent on just one or two players. If you look at the Rajasthan Royals, nobody else scored big runs apart from Jos Buttler and Sanju Samson. We had more in-form batters in our team. Shubman, Hardik (Pandya), (David) Miller and I have all scored over 300 runs this season. The same can be said about the bowlers. The workload was divided effectively, so no one was under extra pressure.

Q: Rashid Khan recently said in an interview that the team meetings never lasted more than five minutes. This is quite similar to MS Dhoni’s philosophy. How much of his influence have you noticed in Ashish Nehra’s coaching and Hardik Pandya’s captaincy?

Saha: Dhoni is a great leader, but Hardik has just started [his captaincy]. You need to bring the whole team together and appreciate every individual to foster team spirit. Hardik has done this exceptionally well. All the support staff members like Ashish Nehra, Gary Kirsten, Vikram Solanki and Aashish Kapoor have contributed significantly to the team’s success. We had short team meetings because we kept things simple. It’s not necessary to have 20-minute-long meetings.

Q: What aspect of Hardik’s captaincy has impressed you the most?

Saha: When a team does well, everything seems nice. I’ve observed a big change in Hardik’s batting style. While playing for the Mumbai Indians, his role was that of a big hitter in the lower middle order. He looked more mature and took added responsibility while batting at No. 4 this season. You could say that he was our middle-order fulcrum. He backed every player in the team and instilled the belief that everyone is a match-winner. It was because of this belief that even Rashid won us a few matches with the bat.

Q: Hardik bowled a match-winning spell in the final. There were questions about his fitness before the start of IPL 2022. Did he train extra hard to get his bowling rhythm back?

Saha: Nobody tried to rush him back to full fitness as he had just recovered from an injury. He was careful about his workload and saved his best bowling performance for the final.

Q: Rashid Khan and you have been playing together in the IPL for five years now. Surely nobody can read him better when it comes to keeping wickets…

Saha: The more you play with someone, the better the understanding becomes. Looking at his release, I can now understand if he would bowl leg-spin or googly and pick the lengths early. If you ask him, he can better tell you if I’ve done a neat job or not (laughs)!

Q: You performed splendidly against your former teams – 67* (57) and two dismissals against CSK, 68 (38) against SRH, and 25 (25) and four dismissals against KKR. Was there any extra motivation to do well against these franchises?

Saha: Not really. I may belong to Bengal, but when I play for a franchise from another state, I never call Eden Gardens my home ground. For those two months, the franchise’s home ground becomes my home ground. I’m a professional cricketer who doesn’t hold a grudge against his former teams. I try to perform well in every match.

Q: One complaint against KKR has been that they neglect Bengal players. There’s no dearth of talent in Bengal. Do you think they should promote more players from their home state?

Saha: You need to see if KKR’s scouts and management have enough faith in Bengal players. Maybe they don’t believe that Bengal players can do well.

Q: In football, we have seen players like Gianluigi Buffon and Zlatan Ibrahimovic play at the highest level even after crossing 40. How do you feel when people constantly speculate about your retirement despite all the good performances?

Saha: I find it really funny. I don't believe age can be a barrier for a fit cricketer. It’s not fair if you don’t say anything to less fit players and target a fitter player all the time only because he’s in his late thirties.

Q: How important a role does PR play in the career of a 21st century professional cricketer?

Saha: It depends on the player. There are some who like to believe that they’ve achieved a lot after playing just one or two good innings. While that’s okay, one should also be prepared for bad times. The media will appreciate you during your purple patch and rightly criticize you when you go through a barren phase. The best way to deal with the media is to remain stoic through your good and bad times. Regardless of whether I perform well or not, I always try to stay grounded.

Q: I’ve seen you enjoy coaching kids in Kolkata whenever you get a break. While there’s still plenty of cricket left in you, do you want to see yourself as a coach in the long run?

Saha: I haven’t yet thought about my long-term plans. I’m currently only focused on my game and want to continue playing at the highest level. I love interacting with kids because you can’t keep a maidan boy away from the maidan (smiles). I’ll be contented if I can share my knowledge with a few youngsters and help them become better cricketers.


RAPID FIRE ROUND

Your favorite holiday destination?

Any beach.

Your favorite street food?

I’m a big foodie, so I love all kinds of street food.

Your favorite footballer is Lionel Messi. What do you like more – his nutmeg or his free-kicks?

I would say his free-kicks as they are so accurate.

Who is your daughter Anvi’s favorite cricketer?

Right now it’s David Miller.

How many alarms do you set on your phone to wake up in the morning?

At least four alarms at five-minute intervals!

How many bats do you carry on a tour?

It depends on the format.

The latest Bengali film that you’ve seen?

Biday Byomkesh.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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