From the giant shadow ...

Wriddhiman Saha, touted to be the best glove-man in the country currently, will finally have the chance to emerge from the rather large shadow of Dhoni and stake his claim as India’s No. 1 wicketkeeper. By S. Sabanayakan.

M. S. Dhoni’s retirement from the longer-format of the game, in the middle of the tour of Australia (after the third Test of the four-match series), took the cricketing world by surprise. India, however, has only played two Test matches since then (the fourth Test in Sydney and one against Bangladesh in Fatullah) and so the team is yet to assess the true loss of the inspirational leader (both as a steady wicketkeeper and a handy lower-order bat).

Team India finally embarks on a full-fledged Test series, when it takes on Sri Lanka, away from home, for three Test matches, staring from August 12. Wriddhiman Saha, touted to be the best glove-man in the country currently, will finally have the chance to emerge from the rather large shadow of Dhoni and stake his claim as India’s No. 1 wicketkeeper.

The technically sound and nimble-footed Saha rarely fumbles behind the stumps — be it in the shortest format of the game or the longer version. A man of few words, he is quiet in his approach and is known to retain a cool head when under pressure. His perfect position at the time of appealing for leg before decisions has only made the job of the umpire that much easier.

Former India wicketkeeper and opening batsman, Deep Dasgupta, who has followed Saha’s career from close quarters, feels the Bengal stumper is “miles ahead” of his competition in the “keeping department”. “He is an absolute delight to watch behind the stumps. But he needs to score runs in Sri Lanka. In modern cricket, the wicketkeeper is expected to excel with the bat as well,” Dasgupta says.

Saha has played five Test matches for India, but is yet to score a half-century — his highest score, a 36 against South Africa in Nagpur, on his Test debut in February 2010.

The 30-year-old Saha is considered as one of the fittest players in the current Indian squad and experts believe his high-intensity fitness regime might help him to serve as India’s premier wicketkeeper for at least half a decade. Former India and current Bengal selector, Sambaran Banerjee, a handy wicketkeeper during his playing days, says Saha’s fitness level is a huge plus point. “He is a fitness freak. Perhaps, he will also pass on this virtue among the other members of the squad,” he says. “He is the best wicketkeeper in the country and deservingly earned his place in the Indian team. He is an experienced campaigner and a matured person. He knows that he has to score runs coming in at No. 7. Saha is aware that only wicket-keeping skills won’t help him to retain his place in the team.”

Banerjee says Adam Gilchrist, the Australian wicket-keeping legend, revolutionised the role of the wicketkeeper as a No. 7 batsman in Test cricket, with his classical, yet attacking batting. “Saha will find the conditions in Sri Lanka to his liking. It is the perfect place for him to find a firm footing in the team. A consistent performance there, both with the gloves and the bat, will help him greatly,” he observes.

With many more waiting in the wings, a below-par performance by Saha might cost him his place in the team. There is competition from seasoned campaigners like Parthiv Patel, Dinesh Karthik and Naman Ojha. Banerjee, however, dismisses any chance of Patel and Karthik staging a comeback. “The two have hardly done anything of note to impress the selectors. Ojha, of course, is a contender, purely on the basis of his batting skills. He is a better batsman compared to Saha, but nowhere near him as a ‘keeper. And (Sanju) Samson does not even keep wickets for Kerala,” he says. “As a wicketkeeper, there is no one close to Saha’s abilities. The challengers will only come into the fray if he fails to impress the selectors with his batting. Otherwise, there is no threat to his place.”

Going a step ahead, Dasgupta thinks, currently, Saha is irreplaceable in the Indian Test team. “Saha is the best in the country today and he will beat his contenders when it comes to wicket-keeping. There is no doubt about it,” he says. “Nobody can take his place. Only he can lose it by not performing up to his potential. But I don’t think that will happen.”