Irani Cup: It's Parthiv vs Saha

The next five days could well see Parthiv Patel and Wriddhiman Saha involved in a straight face-off when it comes to sealing the slot behind the wicket in India’s starting XI.

The Hindu Photo Library

For a major part of the last decade, Parthiv and Saha had been competing to be India’s reserve wicketkeeper. But with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement from Tests at the fag end of 2014, Parthiv and Saha — with a couple more contenders — started vying for the main 'keeper’s slot.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Just when Wriddhiman Saha walked off the greens of the Cricket Club of India’s Brabourne Stadium on Thursday afternoon, Parthiv Patel stepped out of the Gujarat change room and joined his team-mates for a while. It was perhaps the only instance of the two diminutive wicketkeepers crossing each other’s path, literally, a day ahead of the prestigious Irani Cup tie between the Ranji Trophy champion and the Rest of India comrades.

Figuratively, though, both Saha and Patel have been at a crossroads several times over the last decade. Considering the situation they both find themselves in, the next five days could well see the ’keeper-batsmen involved in a straight face-off when it comes to sealing the slot behind the wicket in India’s starting XI.

For a major part of the last decade, Parthiv and Saha had been competing to be India’s reserve wicketkeeper. But with Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s retirement from Tests at the fag end of 2014, Parthiv and Saha — with a couple more contenders — started vying for the main 'keeper’s slot.

While Saha was making the most of his prolonged run, Parthiv was knocking on the doors of the selectors by not only mounting runs on the board but also paying the extra attention — under the watchful eyes of former India stumper Kiran More — on his wicket-keeping skills.

Just when Saha had looked like he had sealed the spot, the bashful Bengali broke down midway through the England series. And Parthiv, brought in to replace him, made a mark with steady hands behind the wickets and handy contributions with the willow.

Parthiv made his case stronger with a sterling show the Ranji final last week, scoring 90 and 143 besides taking six catches en route to leading Gujarat to its maiden Ranji triumph. It appears as if Saha will have to work extra hard and outclass Parthiv by a fair distance over the next five days to reclaim the coveted spot.

Parthiv, however, played down the tussle between the two. “It’s a game between Gujarat and the Rest and not between two players. We all know he (Saha) is very talented, but it’s a game between two teams, not individual players,” said the Gujarat captain.

The Rest of India captain, Cheteshwar Pujara, however, ascertained that healthy competition for spots augurs well for Indian cricket. “It’s very good for the Indian team. Both are experienced, both are performing well. Ultimately it would be up to the team management to decide. I always believe if you have healthy competition, it’s very good for the team,” Pujara said.

“If we want to be No. 1 in the world, we need to have some back-up players. Not just wicketkeepers, but even in other departments. We need players who can come in and perform well.”

Siraj replaces Thakur

Hyderabad pacer Mohammed Siraj joined the Rest of India squad in place of Mumbai fast bowler Shardul Thakur, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Thakur was examined by the India team’s medical staff in Pune on Tuesday and was thus ruled out of the game.

Gujarat has made two changes to the squad that overcame Mumbai in Indore in the Ranji final. While top-order batsman Bhargav Merai has been dropped due to poor form, pace bowler Mehul Patel fractured his leg in a road accident. Het Patel and Mohit Thadani have been included in the side.

The teams (from):

Gujarat: Parthiv Patel (capt & wk), Priyank Panchal, Samit Gohil, Manprit Juneja, Rujul Bhatt, Chirag Gandhi, Hardik Patel, Chintan Gaja,, Rudra Pratap Singh, Rush Kalaria, Ishwar Chaudhary, Dhruv Raval, Karan Patel, Het Patel and Mohit Thadani.

Rest of India: Cheteshwar Pujara (capt), Abhinav Mukund, Akhil Herwadkar, Karun Nair, Manoj Tiwary, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Kuldeep Yadav, Shahbaz Nadeem, Pankaj Singh, K. Vignesh, Siddarth Kaul, Shardul Thakur, Akshay Wakhare, Ishan Kishan and Prashant Chopra.