@Aadya_Wisden 4 minute read
India’s imperious quicks earned plenty of plaudits for blanking Bangladesh in the day-night Test, but backing them spectacularly was local hero Wriddhiman Saha, who, yet again, proved why he’s one of the most highly-rated Test wicketkeepers in the world, says Aadya Sharma.
It was fitting that in India’s first-ever pink-ball Test at the Eden Gardens, a ground where Wriddhiman Saha learnt and fine-tuned his craft, he became just the fifth Indian wicketkeeper to affect a century of dismissals in Tests.
The chants were familiar as was the Kolkata pitch, but it was still new territory for Saha, standing up against the SG pink ball. The game ended in just over two days, but Saha presented a remarkable show of his versatility.
On the eve of the historic Test, a lot was spoken about the challenge posed by a weathered ball under lights to batsmen, and Saha himself admitted to uncertainty about how the ball will behave. When the occasion came, Saha was up to the task, gobbling up four catches.
More than the numbers, however, it was his remarkably agility against a wildly swerving leather of pink that stood out. There was a wondrous one-handed take in the first innings, where he leapt full stretch to chase an edge, flinging himself past first slip to grab it with just his thumb and forefinger.
Born three years after the legendary MS Dhoni, Saha was a quiet figure overshadowed by India’s World Cup winning captain in his prime. However, once Dhoni abruptly decided to retire from Tests midway through the 2014/15 Australia tour, Saha was handed the big gloves. When asked about comparisons with Dhoni in 2015, the soft-spoken, 5’9″ stumper was almost too humble: “If Dhoni is 9/10, I am 2.5/10.”
The self-deprecation notwithstanding, Saha has been one of India’s most technically efficient wicketkeepers of the decade. In October, Virat Kohli reiterated yet again Saha’s status in world cricket. “His ‘keeping credentials are for everyone to see. According to me he is the best ‘keeper in the world.” Ravi Shastri, the India head coach, has often said the same, and it’s evident why.
Since January 2017, right after he returned from a hamstring-enforced break, Saha’s catch success percentage, at 93.80 per cent, has been the second best in the world for any ‘keeper with more than 10 catches, pipped only by Pakistan’s Sarfaraz Ahmed. Sarfaraz has stood up to 300 deliveries more in the same period, and in the same number of Tests (17).
India’s pack of fast bowlers is arguably the best they have ever had. Fortunately, they have Saha’s assurance behind the sticks. Saha rarely lets anything get past him, and a good example of that doggedness came during the day-night game, when, with the ball doing a lot after crossing the batsman, Saha flung himself left and right, and was largely successful in countering the late movement. Apart from two wildly swinging deliveries, which was beyond anyone’s reach, Saha hardly put a foot wrong.
— Wisden (@WisdenCricket) November 22, 2019
Against pace specifically, Saha is supreme, with a catch success rate of 97.7 per cent since January 2017, the highest in the world. That has much to do with his technique. Saha, slightly built, stays in a low crouch, rather than a full squat, and it lends him more stability against the pacers.
He is remarkably swift on his feet too, and combined with his panther-like reflexes , he’s steadily become India’s most trusted gloveman. Since 2017, Saha has grassed just four chances, the joint-least for any wicketkeeper in the world with at least 10 Test matches in the period.
Saha’s low error-rate stands out against spin as well. Slow, low Indian pitches with appreciable turn is a ‘keeper’s litmus test, but Saha has held his own, enjoying a remarkable overall dismissal rate of 98.3 per cent.
In 2019, Saha returned to the Test side, having spent over 20 months on the sidelines with a shoulder injury. It was a career-threatening setback, and needed him to spend a long time for rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy.
With Saha out, Rishabh Pant was thrown into the deep end, with three away tours in 12 months. The 22-year-old gave teasers of his batting potential, scoring enterprising centuries in Australia and England, but his raw wicketkeeping put him under the scanner. Pant spilled 10 catches in 11 Tests, before Saha returned.
Leaping around nonchalantly on his home turf in Kolkata, one thing was certain: the injury is well and truly a thing of the past, and even at 35, Saha continues to prove why he is still the best.