Wriddhiman Saha finally hits his stride with the bat against West Indies

  • Somshuvra Laha, Hindustan Times, St Lucia
  • Updated: Aug 11, 2016 13:07 IST
India's wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha celebrates after he scored a century against West Indies. (AP Photo)

There is always this brewing feeling that Wriddhiman Saha keeps underselling himself. He is one of the most reclusive cricketers in the India dressing room, barely speaks English but is upfront enough to say that it’s best if he is asked questions in Hindi or better, Bengali.

He joined Twitter three years back but even some time back Saha used to give quizzical looks when told about the phenomenon of retweeting. As long as he keeps wickets well and scores some runs, Saha is least bothered about his public image or the lack of it rather. In short, he is a PR disaster and possibly the last person ready to face the glare of an India press conference.

In this age of technology when a person doesn’t speak up for himself in public, or at least promise to try and live up to expectations in chaste English or Hindi, it somehow becomes more important that his records speak for him. For a long time Saha was considered India’s best wicket-keeper after MS Dhoni but time and again he had to face the debate whether Naman Ojha could bring more balance to the team with his batting. A maiden century on Wednesday, at a time when India needed it desperately, should clear the air over Saha’s utility.

It took some time coming though, 22 innings to be exact. And throughout his international stint, there have been quite a few instances when Saha was accused of throwing away his wicket. Like when he was on 40 (in Antigua) and 47 (in Jamaica) this series. Had he not been too restless against Nathan Lyon in the Adelaide Test in 2014, Virat Kohli could have tried to get closer to a gettable 364-run target.

That somehow put to shade a string of good performances in Sri Lanka where KL Rahul too had got a century. Given Rahul’s growing stature as a wicketkeeper-batsman who can open the batting as well as come in the middle order, Saha had to show someday that he too can score big when required.

It’s not that Saha is unfamiliar with big knocks. He scored a defiant century against Maharashtra in the 2013-14 Ranji Trophy semi-finals where Bengal’s hopes were squashed within the first session. Nobody could have seen a feisty 55-ball 115 coming from Saha’s bat in the 2014 IPL final against KKR. Unfortunately though, public memory of such innings rarely last long since they didn’t result in wins.

India's Ravichandran Ashwin celebrates after he scored a century against West Indies. (AP Photo)

Unlike his keeping, Saha doesn’t have the best batting technique. There are two visible problems in his batting --- at times, he tends to play too many shots for his own good and often, his head falls over while playing the incoming delivery. He is yet to rectify the second but Saha’s improvement came in the way he controlled his scoring rate. It took him 94 deliveries to get his first boundary but then Saha ramped up his scoring so quietly that by the time Ashwin had reached 99, he had already motored on to 94.

“Saha pretty much expressed himself this morning. He played quite a few shots. To me it was very important that I hung around and I stuck around because that kind of solidity was very important. We knew we were 50-60 runs away from any kind of respectability. I wanted to leave the balls. I wanted to play close to my body and try and bat time. We were communicating about which way the ball was swinging and what the bowler was looking to do,” said Ashwin about his partnership with Saha at the end of day’s play.

“The thing with Saha is he puts a price on his wicket. He is a damn good player of spin. He can really tonk the ball. That I know from having played first-class with him. So I know Saha pretty well and the communication was centred around sticking on rather than look for avenues for scoring runs,” said Ashwin.

Given their positions, Ashwin and Saha have batted together in the past and are also destined to do the same in future too. But this partnership stood out for the collective patience shown by the two, especially Saha. If he applies himself like this in future, India could be assured of more runs from their wicketkeeper.

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