Wriddhiman Saha: The anti-MS Dhoni wicket-keeper that India need
December 2014, Adelaide
India were on the verge of an unlikely yet incredible Test win over Australia in sun-bathed Adelaide, thanks to the brilliance of Virat Kohli and the assuredness of Murali Vijay. The visitors were 5 down with 87 runs further required when Wriddhiman Saha joined the skipper in the middle.
A competent batsman with a good domestic record, Saha was expected to provide Kohli the support he needed to take India home. After negotiating seven deliveries, he decided to up the ante.
Off the eighth ball, he stepped down and hit Nathan Lyon for a six. Off the ninth, he hit him for a four. The 10th was played away for no run.
Then disaster struck. The 11th delivery saw him once again jump down the pitch but instead of connecting it, he missed the ball and it crashed into the stumps. In trying to be too ambitious, Saha had given his wicket away and it meant that the skipper had to now rally the tail around him.
At the time, a lot was made of the shot selection, since 10 runs had already come from the over. With India eventually losing, the mode of dismissal only came under further scrutiny from the public.
October 2016, Kolkata
India were delicately placed in their first innings of the second Test against New Zealand at 193 for 5, with two set batsman back in the pavilion. Saha, now the permanent first-choice keeper – unlike in Adelaide, once again had a job in his hand – to provide confidence to the lower order and take India to a total, that would provide them some comfort.
For company, he had Ravichandran Ashwin, another man capable of getting big runs. But soon he lost him to an lbw decision, leaving him to rally with the bowlers.
In domestic cricket, Saha bats in the Top 5 for Bengal, so the chances of him batting with the tail may not have been as much, but here, coming in at 7, batting with the tail would be a common occurrence and he had to cope up with it well.
There are different ways of batting with the tail. Certain players adopt the tactic of batting most parts of the over before giving the tailender the last ball to face. Others like to get off strike early and give the non-regular batsman a challenge to face up to the bowler. Steve Waugh was someone who did a lot of the latter.
India were 272 for 9 when Saha’s statemate Mohammed Shami walked out to bat. The hosts had put up a good total on the board but needed more to feel comfortable.
Initially, the wicket-keeper adopted the former approach, where he played most of the deliveries – even all six once – to protect Shami. But as the partnership started to gain momentum, he began to put a bit more trust in his partner’s batting, giving him the strike with a couple of deliveries left.
The pair put 35 vital runs for the last wicket that propelled India to 316.
In the second innings, India had recovered well from the doldrums they had found themselves in at the start, and it was up to Saha once again to take his side to safety. Batting again with the tail, he adopted a similar approach and registered his second fifty of the game to ensure India had a good enough total to defend.
It was an indication that he had come a long way since that brain-fade in Adelaide and provided assurance to all watching, about his capabilities in Test cricket.