Wriddhiman Saha: Cruelly underrated as a batsman
The India wicket-keeper is a fine batsman who needs to be given more credit.
The cyberspace is buzzing with the news of a new batting world record. The fastest T20 hundred in a professional game has been hit if Mohun Bagan club's assertion is to be believed. Wriddhiman Saha, the India Test wicket-keeper, has smashed an astounding 20-ball 102 in a JC Mukherjee Trophy game against BNR Recreation Club.
Granted that it is a T20 club game, far away from the big bad world of international cricket or the glamorous environs of IPL, but it is a feat humongous in its statistical glory. 18 of those 20 balls were sent to the fence either as a boundary or an over-boundary. Wriddhi, as he is popularly known, hit six sixes to round off a crushing victory for Mohun Bagan in the most emphatic fashion possible.
Yet, Wriddhiman, the batsman, is never given his due, one feels. It is always his superiority with the gloves, his fine technique and his temperament that have given him a place in the Indian Test side as the perfect replacement for MS Dhoni, not his perfect forward defence or delectable cover driving.
Saha's batting prowess
Dinesh Karthik, whose recent heroics in the Nidahas Trophy final are well known, and even Parthiv Patel are sometimes considered better batsmen, especially in the shorter formats.
Saha is a stately station wagon when compared to Karthik's swashbuckling Ferrari, if the popular perception is to be accepted. It, however, needs to be conceded that Saha has sometimes struggled against top-quality pace bowling in trying conditions on some occasions, but isn't that a scourge that has traditionally afflicted Indian batsmen on overseas tours?
This correspondent has witnessed first hand the way in which Saha has been a pillar of Bengal's batting order for many seasons in matches hardly accorded the scrutiny 1st class games deserve.
Crucial role player
One remembers Saha's resilience in the 2013-14 Ranji campaign in which Bengal reached the semi-finals, especially his crucial contributions in both innings in a trying quarter-final at Eden Gardens in a regrettably half-empty stadium against a well-oiled Railways team. This memorable match only saw some attendance on the final day with Bengal sneaking towards a thrilling victory.
Saha's dexterity with the bat is a narrative shrouded in neglect. One should not consider him a mug with the bat in the shorter formats either. This is a stereotype that needs to be tackled. Public memory is excruciatingly short and hence needs to be jogged.
Saha, if one remembers correctly, showed glimpses of his calibre in the first IPL season itself, back in 2008, when he was with Kolkata Knight Riders. One remembers how he teamed up with David Hussey to almost secure an unlikely victory against Kings XI Punjab in an away match from a seemingly impossible situation.
Has one forgotten his memorable century in the IPL final in 2014, when, playing for the Kings XI Punjab, he became the first batsman in the history of the IPL to score a century in the final? Surely he is set to contribute with the bat for Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL 2018 as well, as his recent form demonstrates.
The way forward
As a Test batsman, the Siliguri boy already has three Test hundreds. However, his average is only hovering around 30 right now. His ODI record with the bat is also pretty terrible and does no justice to his talents.
To someone who has seen Saha bat at the domestic level for many seasons, it comes as a surprise when his abilities with the willow are questioned. Can it be a pressure issue that he is yet to fully blossom as an international batsman; that his performances cannot be equated with his abilities?
It is high time that people that matter, including the Indian team think-tank, bestow more faith in him as a batsman. Only then might we see the Saha who has a 42.57 first-class average.