How Wriddhiman Saha trained for comeback

To protect his shoulder, India A fielding coach Abhay Sharma had designed a unique drill to help him collect the ball behind the body.

Among the challenges ahead, Saha will be keen to retain his spot for the tour of New Zealand in February 2020.   -  AP

Fear of injury is a psychological deterrent for a sportsman but Wriddhiman Saha fights fire with fire. On his international comeback post a career-threatening shoulder injury, the 34-year-old wicketkeeper dived to snatch first slip offerings and moonwalked down the leg to pluck the cherry among other Shaolin monk-like acrobatics.

He took seven catches in the first two Tests against South Africa after a 21-month break from red-ball cricket. It happened as there was a process to his recovery.

The rehab had started long ago at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, but the stumper perhaps felt the fire in his belly while in India A grind; the stint helped him repair the body position. Fielding coach Abhay Sharma had a mission in hand — “to make him ready to play,” he tells Sportstar.

READ| Fly like superman, grab 'em like spiderman: Saha at his best

He had designed a Saha-specific drill to protect his shoulder. For the last 10 months — before the Bengal stumper returned to the international setup — the two would meet everyday at 6:30 in the morning at the NCA to execute their plans. “Once a player comes out of injury, that injury always comes in his mind when he is playing. I, being a former wicketkeeper, could relate to him,” he adds.

Saha was made to sit on one knee on a soft surface, while the other remained in a semi-plank sort of a posture. The first ball thrown at him would be a straight or a low catch and then, every alternate throwdown would be towards the wide of off to “activate” the superman dives. “He had an injury on his shoulder, so we insisted on passing the ball behind the body. If you see the catches he has been taking — with a bit of height — have been behind the body. It allows him to follow the ball and land in a way that the injury-prone area is protected. Once the ball is carrying, it is always advisable to collect it behind the body. It seems to be working for him,” says Sharma, who was instrumental in fine-tuning Rishabh Pant in the past.

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Explaining the alternate dive move, he says, “The first ball is thrown above the shoulder and the second one away from the body so he catches the second ball behind the body. The first ball is to activate his shoulders. It is necessary because you can’t hit top gear instantly.”

Saha’s troublesome hour had begun in 2018 when he had to return from the tour of South Africa with a hamstring injury. Then, he picked up a thumb injury in the IPL before the shoulder injury was revealed. He had also undergone a labral repair surgery in Manchester.

Saha had a slow and steady recovery, the first six months of rehab at the NCA did not have much effect on his movements. Then, the board rang up former India wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra to assess the stumper's fitness levels and help him with glovework. When he came to India A, he was fit but needed the confidence to jump in full throttle.

Harnessing his reflexes, Sharma made the ‘keeper play to his strength. It cleansed his head that he is fit to fly.

“We have to build the trust that what we are doing now is going to benefit him. He was having confidence in my drill. After every drill, we would talk as part of the feedback session. It is all about how he feels,” he adds.

India A team fielding coach Abhay Sharma had designed a Saha-specific drill to protect his shoulder.   -  G.P. Sampath Kumar


READ| Saha happy to help teammate Rishabh Pant

Late bloom

Sharma feels wicketkeepers mature late and that Saha is “at his best now”.

“Wicketkeeping is a skill where we mature a little late and at present, he is on top of his game. I say this to all ‘keepers. No young keepers can create wonders but once that keeper is 28 to 30, they mature and they are at their best when they are 32 to 33.”

The skill undergoes an auto-upgrade with years of standing behind the wicket.

“But there is a difference between born ‘keepers and the ones who are made ‘keepers. Saha is a born keeper,” Sharma adds.

Among the challenges ahead, he will be keen to retain his spot for the tour of New Zealand in February 2020. The fans would love a sweet and Saha experience on bouncy wickets.

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