Vintage Saha making up for lost time
Ten days shy of his 35th birthday, Wriddhiman Saha is basking in a grand revival of his India career. In the two Tests against South Africa, he has been at his sharpest behind the stumps, providing the perfect back-up to his bowlers as the hosts have wrapped up both the games with ease.
The bowler to benefit the most from that brilliant glovework in the second Test win over South Africa was Umesh Yadav. He owed three of his match haul of six wickets to the skills of Saha.
South Africa No. 3 Theunis de Bruyn’s eyes lit up as he played a glance to a wayward Yadav delivery that was going down the leg. To his incredulity, Saha was airborne to his left, taking a spectacular catch and gifting the fast bowler his first wicket of the day.
De Bruyn had been at the receiving end of Saha’s acrobatics in the first innings as well. Going through a lean patch, the batsman had done the hard yards and reached 30 when he went for a drive off Yadav, but Saha flew to his right to snap up the edge almost in front of first slip.
Yadav benefitted again after another wayward delivery on the leg side when Saha converted it into a catch to dismiss Vernon Philander. In between, the Bengal player recovered superbly after an initial fumble to take a difficult catch, to take Faf du Plessis’s edge that had come off the pad.
It has been a brilliant return to Test cricket for the affable player, after being out of the team for close to two years. Before this series, Saha had last played in the Cape Town Test in early 2018 as his career was hampered by injuries. Meanwhile, young Rishabh Pant had made the keeper’s spot his own mainly on the strength of his batting. In an era where batting is given more preference than keeping skills, it is brilliant to see Saha win back the confidence of skipper Virat Kohli on the strength of his glovework.
In this series, Saha was preferred over Pant mainly due to his superior keeping on turning pitches and he hasn’t disappointed, keeping the byes down to just eight in the match. In the first innings, he didn’t concede a bye. Keeping to R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja is no easy task on these wickets.
The contribution of Saha was acknowledged by Yadav, who was effusive in his praise of the Siliguri dynamo’s work. “It boosts the morale of the bowler as you rarely witness such catches in international cricket. Usually these balls go for four, but then when you need to win matches, these are the catches that lift the spirits of the team. The catch that Wriddhi da (Saha) took was unbelievable. Even the catch he took off Ash while juggling 3-4 times was commendable. When you know that your keeper is putting in extra effort, he is even stopping your bad deliveries; and it is not the first time. He has taken many such catches off my bowling. He knows because he has an idea that I tend to drift to the leg-side at times. The manner in which he kept was brilliant.”
In 34 Tests, he now has 82 catches and 10 stumpings. Kohli had praised Saha as the ‘best wicketkeeper in the world’. On the evidence of the two Tests so far, he doesn’t seem to have
lost his spring one bit.