Viswanath's ball collection, Kirmani's footwork and Dhoni's positioning - Abhay Sharma's ideal keeper

Abhay Sharma's specific involvement with India 'A' is with the wicketkeepers, where India boasts of exceptional talent in Rishab Pant, KS Bharat, Ishan Kishan and Prabhsimran Singh.

India A team fielding coach Abhay Sharma believes Wriddhiman Saha is a model wicketkeeper.   -  G.P. Sampath Kumar

For Abhay Sharma, former India under-19 captain and Railways wicketkeeper for more than a decade, working with Rahul Dravid has been the most constructive phase of his post-retirement association with the game.

“His work culture and the freedom he allows us to express our opinion is outstanding. I am learning every day,” says Abhay, the fielding and wicketkeeping coach of the India 'A' team.

Dravid and Abhay are involved in working with the juniors and the supply line for the senior team. The National Selection Committee acknowledges their support in fast-tracking players with potential – Rishabh Pant, Hanuma Vihari, Shubman Gill being the prominent ones.

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Abhay's specific involvement is with wicketkeepers where India boasts of some exceptional talent in Pant, KS Bharat and Ishan Kishan. The presence of Wriddhiman Saha, Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik creates healthy competition. “We have a rich pool which really opens up the competition. I can add one more name, Prabhsimran Singh (of Punjab). He has amazing talent. Watch out for Hardik Patel too.”

Working with the aim to prepare the second line, Abhay says, “To me what matters is how much you love your gloves. I also see if the wicketkeeper has a good ball sense. Prabhsimran has that quality. The technique is paramount but you have to have that inborn quality to love your gloves like an Allan Knott or a Syed Kirmani.”

Saha, emphasises Abhay, is a model wicketkeeper. “Saha is brilliant. His glovework, footwork and head position is ideal. None can match MS (Dhoni) in head position. It allows him to stay close to the stumps. Dhoni is a cool collector of the ball and you can see his hand will always reach the stumps when stumping on running out a batsman.”

In Abhay's view, a “pure” wicketkeeper will always have his place in current times when captains can be tempted to go for a “package” wicketkeeper. “A pure, or a technically excellent wicketkeeper, will never be found wanting when the ball swings or spins. The biggest test comes when there is a lot of reverse swing. Skills will always count and win you a place. I am teaching young wicketkeepers to go for the second-slip ball. That is the trend.”

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Abhay insists the preparation of a wicketkeeper is crucial. “Everything depends on how you prepare the wicketkeeper. Also, you have to be patient with them because wicketkeepers take time to mature. Most of them peak at 27-28. Dhoni is an exception though.”

How would Abhay want a wicketkeeper to develop? “Collection of the ball like Sadanand Viswanath, who was an attacking wicketkeeper, footwork like Kirmani and Knott and positioning like Dhoni.”