Wriddhiman Saha, Rishabh Pant and their glovework kinship

Familiar with Ashwin and Jadeja's variations, Saha did not take long to unleash his superman reflexes in the series against South Africa.

India Test wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha at a practice session in Ranchi on Friday.   -  AP

 

In February this year, Wriddhiman Saha was travelling with the Bengal squad for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the domestic T20 competition. The tournament was a significant moment in Saha's comeback story. After flourishing on the big stage as India's first-choice 'keeper in Tests, a hamstring injury ruled him out of the second Test in South Africa in January 2018. Later, a career-threatening shoulder injury forced him out of action for more than a year.

Bengal's match against Arunachal Pradesh at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack was, thus, among Saha's first bouts of competitive cricket in a long time. And the wicketkeeper-batsman didn't disappoint, hammering 129 off just 62 balls with 16 fours and four sixes. 

READ| How Wriddhiman Saha trained for comeback

The road to recovery wasn't easy though. It was a step by step rehab, which began with Saha adding weights before culminating into keeping, knocking and then batting by gradually increasing pace: first on the mat, then on the ground.

The grind in domestic cricket eventually paid off when he was picked for the ongoing Test series against South Africa — the stumper's first international appearance in 21 months. "I was out of the team for a long time because of injury before returning to the squad by playing domestic cricket and India A... It feels nice contributing to the team's cause," said Saha on the eve of the third and final Test in Ranchi.

Team India skipper Virat Kohli was effusive in his praise for Saha at the start of the series, hailing him as the 'best keeper in the world'. "He's (Saha) played well for us whenever he's got a chance, with the bat also, and it was unfortunate that he was out for such a long period because of an injury, so in these conditions, with what he's done in the past, he starts for us," Kohli had said in Visakhapatnam.

READ| Saha happy to help teammate Rishabh Pant

But Saha's selection meant young Rishabh Pant had to be benched. The southpaw has come in for criticism in recent times for his shot selection in limited-overs cricket. Saha, who was named as one of the two ’keepers in the Test squad for the West Indies tour, alongside Pant said that he shares a great camaraderie with the 22-year-old and even shed some light on how the two hone their skills ahead of every match.

"There's a great understanding between me and him (Pant). We get together with fielding coach R. Sridhar and work on how to adjust our keeping depending on each surface. He observes my keeping closely when I'm playing and I do the same for him," Saha said.

"Keeping is a thankless job. Be it a turning wicket or a pitch with uneven bounce, standing behind the stumps is a challenge. I've kept wickets to Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja for a long time, so I know what pace they bowl at and the variations they have up their sleeve; that helps," he added.

Kohli had earlier said Saha did not make it to the XI in the West Indies because the team wanted to give Pant a few more opportunities while making sure the senior pro was absolutely ready. And now that he has returned, Saha who turns 35 this October, will be keen to live up to the 'best keeper' tag.

Big plus

Sourav Ganguly, who is the president of the Cricket Association of Bengal, is set to be elected unopposed as BCCI president on October 23 at the board’s Annual General Meeting. Congratulating Ganguly on his appointment, Saha said, "Dadi (Ganguly) has represented India for so long. He dominated the game as a captain and as a player, and will understand the demands of the players which is a big plus for the team."