Wriddhiman Saha has been an asset for the Indian test team as a wicket-keeper batsman in last six years. His opportunity as a permanent keeper in test cricket came in 2014. The retirement of former Indian skipper MS Dhoni created this opening for Saha. Till then, he has been a regular in the test team, especially on subcontinent conditions.
Saha was born on this day (24 October) in 1984 at Siliguri, West Bengal. He has been pretty consistent as a wicket-keeper batsman for the Bengal Ranji team. His stint with the Kolkata Knight Riders thereafter helped him grab the attention of national selectors. Saha made his international debut for India in the infamous 2010 Nagpur test versus South Africa. He made his ODI debut in following November against New Zealand.
Saha played only 9 ODI matches in his short-lived LOI career. Inability to make any batting impact in those games was the big reason behind such a short career. Also, the presence of someone as legendary like MS Dhoni in the national team made it difficult for any contemporary wicket-keeper in the country.
Comeback in Test Cricket
However, Saha broke into the test squad once again in the 2014 Australia tour of India. India was whitewashed 0-4 in that series. MS Dhoni announced his retirement from the longer format following the loss in the third game of the series. This paved the way for the permanent inclusion of Saha finally as the specialist wicket-keeper.
Saha made the headlines quite a number of times in these six years, thanks to his brilliant wicket-keeping feats. His exclusive technique as a keeper often earned praises for him. Indian skipper Virat Kohli has repeatedly regarded him as the ‘best wicket-keeper in the world’. The need for a specialist keeper in the longer format of the game worked in favor of Saha.
On the other hand, batting has never been a strong suit for Wriddhiman. His test average of 30.2 resulted later in his exclusion as the first choice keeper overseas. However, he is still the first choice in dusty, subcontinent conditions. His proven skills against spin bowling as a keeper deepened his spot in the team.
Crucial knocks under pressure
Despite his inconsistency with the bat in hand, Saha made a few important contributions as a batsman for team India. The Indian team under the leadership of Kohli had been really consistent in tests across last few years. A stable middle order, two experienced spinners and a fierce pace bowling attack helped India achieve this. However, there has been match situations when one or two players from the playing XI made crucial handouts to save the team from trouble.
Wriddhiman also took this role on a handful of occasions. The following list includes four of his key knocks for the Indian test team.
Team India visited the Caribbean islands in July 2016 for a 4-match test series. With a 1-0 lead, India came to St Lucia for the third game of the series. West Indies captain Jason Holder won the toss and sent India to bat first. A charged pace attack by Shannon Gabriel and Alzarri Joseph reduced the visitors to 126/5 before tea.
Maiden Test Ton for Wriddhiman Saha
It was then when Wriddhiman Saha took the crease along with spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. These two began defying the pace attack slowly and tired out the bowlers. As time passed, the moisture off the pitch dried up. Both the batsmen went to the make centuries as a result. Ashwin made 118(297) while Saha scored his first international century en route to 104(227). The duo put on a partnership of 213 runs from about 70 overs.
This led India put on a strong total of 353 in the first innings. A dynamic Indian bowling attack thereafter teared the Windies batting apart. India won the game by 237 runs. Eventually India went on to win the series by 2-0 margin.
Saha followed up with his good batting form in the home series against New Zealand. India met the Kiwis at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata for the second match of a 3-test series. Having won the toss, Kohli decided to bat first. Thanks to his brilliant batting form in the West Indies tour earlier, Ashwin was promoted over Saha in the batting order. As a result, Wriddhiman was called at no. 8 in the lineup.
The Cricket Association of Bengal produced a green, bouncy wicket for this game. In general, Indian pitches during the Kohli era has always been the dusty that allows the ball to turn on the first day of a test itself. But, the Day 1 Kolkata pitch instead favored the Kiwi pace attack of Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Neil Wagner.
From 187/3, a sudden collapse rigged by Wagner and spinner Jeetan Patel reduced India to 200/6. The Kiwi bowlers were charged enough to finish the tail off quickly. However, they faced yet another a gritty fightback from the pair of Ashwin and Saha. But, Ashwin soon fell for 26 at the team total of 231/7.
A Gritty Test 50 for Wriddhiman Saha
It was time for the home boy to take charge. But, it was not really easy as a few balls off the pacers were bouncing roughly into the body of the batsmen. Saha even took a few blows on his chest and shoulder. But, he went on to find the gaps and rotate the strike with partner Ravindra Jadeja in tandem. Jadeja fell for 14, later Bhuvneshwar Kumar fell for 5 too. Saha held the crease on the other end and took India across the 300-mark.
When no. 11 Mohammed Shami got dismissed for 14 as the last wicket, India had 316 on board with Saha unbeaten at 54.
In response, New Zealand stumbled to 122/7 in front of the Indian pace duo Bhuvi-Shami. However, a quick 47-ball-47 from tail-ender Jeetan Patel led them to 204, giving away India a lead of just 112 runs.
After that, Boult and Henry ran through the Indian top order quickly. The pace and bounce exposed the weaknesses of the Indian batsmen, tottering them into 106/6 within a single session. Once again, Wriddhiman Saha entered the pavilion at the panic moment.
Another Valiant Test 50 for Wriddhiman Saha
Saha battled the first session pace attack in partnership with Rohit Sharma. He took a few additional blows to his body but did not even rub the bruises. His gritty defense earned sheer reputation from the commentators on air. He made another unbeaten knock of 58 along with Rohit and the tail. Rohit’s 82 and Saha’s knock propelled India to a stable lead of 375.
New Zealand fell to 197 all out in the final innings in front of Shami and the spin duo Ashwin-Jadeja. India won the match by 178 runs. Saha was adjudged the Man of the Match for his double delight with the bat in the test match.
Australia came to tour India the next summer for 4-match test series. The turning track strategy backfired in the first match of the series in Pune for India. Australian spin duo Nathan Lyon and Steve O’Keefe rampaged through the Indian batting lineup in both the innings to register a surprise victory by 333 runs! The dismal batting performance from India continued in the following Bangalore test too. However, Indian spin duo Ashwin-Jadeja helped the home side level the series with a 75-run victory.
As a result, a flat track was offered in the third test at Ranchi. But, this move once again favored the visitors as Australia skipper Steve Smith came up with a brilliant knock of 178 not out. Australia finished at 451 all out on the first innings.
Coming to bat, both Indian openers Murali Vijay and KL Rahul scored fifties. However, the middle order fell shortly with Cheteshwar Pujara holding the ground at one end. India was struggling at one point at 328/6, with a trail of 123 runs.
A Second Test Century for Wriddhiman Saha
Saha came to bat as the no. 8 batsman. Once again, he responded the Aussie spearheads with his defensive approach. Pujara and Saha happily kept on blocking the good deliveries and hitting the bad ones. Their resilience made the job real tough for the visitors on the humid Indian summer condition. The bowlers wore off as the duo changed their gears. A great display of strokeplay all around the field from both Pujara and Saha led them to their centuries. While Pujara scored 202, Saha made 117 on the other end. A 199-run partnership stood between these two from about 80 overs.
The duo helped India take a lead of 152 runs, denying Australians a shot at first innings advantage. A defensive 200-ball-72 from Peter Handscomb helped Australia draw the game.
Wriddhiman Saha has been a necessity on subcontinent conditions as the test specialist wicket-keeper for India. His performance at the 2017 Colombo test in Sri Lanka has been a highlight of his career. On a wildly turning track, Saha gave away just 4 byes. He has taken many blinder catches that earned him the nickname of ‘Superman’ among the fans.
As a batsman, he has not been as effective as expected. Saha holds a batting average of 42.74 in first-class cricket with 13 centuries. For India, he could produce just 3 of those at 30.19.
As he turns 36, it would not be easy for Saha to hold on to his position in the test lineup. The emergence of young keepers like Rishabh Pant or Srikar Bharath might be another reason behind this.
However, given his fighting attitude especially as undoubtedly the best wicket-keeper in the country, there still remains scope for a lot of expectations from Wriddhiman Saha. Happy Birthday!