Wriddhiman Saha: Dhoni's Able SuccessorWriddhiman Saha, was born in Shaktigarh in Bardhaman district of Bengal, some 91 kilometres away from Kolkata. He was selected in the Indian Test team for the home series against South Africa in 2010 on the back of some impressive performances in the 2009-10 Ranji season. Thereafter, he was doomed to be the perennial understudy of Indias captain and wicketkeeper-batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni. But fate had other designs for him. In his very first series as reserve wicketkeeper, a freak injury to Rohit Sharma got him his Test cap in Nagpur Test against the South Africans, albeit as a batsman. Saha scored a duck on debut but played well in the second innings to score 36. India lost the match and Sahas performance did not attract much criticism as apart from S Badrinath in the first innings and Sachin Tendulkar in the second, all Indian batsman failed.
By Sunil Garodia
He got his second chance in Adelaide in 2012 when Dhoni missed a match due to slow over rate penalty. His performance in the first innings was good. He scored only 36 runs but faced 137 deliveries, showing the capacity to stand there and build partnerships. In that Test too, apart from Virat Kohli scoring a century in the first innings and Sehwag hitting a quick fire 62 in the second, all Indian batsmen fared poorly to hand Australia a comprehensive victory. But Saha stuck around with Kohli to have a 114 runs partnership for the 6th wicket in the first innings, showing again that given opportunities he was ready to take on the Test mantle of wicketkeeper-batsman from the great Dhoni.
From 2010 till Dhonis retirement from Tests in 2014, Wriddhiman Saha knew he would get little opportunities to play despite being in the team. But he stuck manfully to his task as an understudy and got match practice in domestic tournaments playing for Bengal and in the IPL playing for various teams, the last being Kings Eleven Punjab. If one has a person like Mahendra Singh Dhoni to learn from, one should consider himself blessed. Saha was not short on the wicketkeeping front. But he must have learnt many tricks from Dhoni in batting and staying calm under pressure situations. He must have also picked up tricks to think out a batsman during Dhonis famous team meetings. Strategy plays a big part in cricket today and Saha has matured as a player and strategist by being in the shadows of Dhoni for two years.
Wriddhiman Saha was also fortunate that there was little competition among wicketkeepers at that time. Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik had been tried earlier and the newer kids on the block were more inclined towards the shorter versions of the game. Robin Uthappa is not good behind the stumps and he is not at his best batting lower down the order. The team has no place for him as an opener. Naman Ojha is past his prime. Ambati Rayadu was given chances but he again is not suited for the longer version. With time, Saha would have to yield place to the young Sanju Samson, but that is now far away. Samson has a lot to learn and prove that he is fit for the longer version of the game.
More than his batting, Wriddhiman Saha is the first choice for India in Tests due to his excellent work behind the stumps. He is the most organized wicketkeeper presently on view in India in all formats of the game. Be it fast bowlers or spinners, Saha has a game plan, backed obviously by the skipper and the bowlers, on how to keep wickets. He has, since his regular selection from 2014, cemented his place in the team due to two reasons first, he is an excellent keeper and second, he is a good team man. This Indian cricket team is a close-knit squad. It thrives on high-fives, back-slapping and praising each others efforts. There is no place in this team for players who are loners or who are too egoistic to praise others. Saha gained a lot of brownie points in the team when during the West Indies tour; he landed a room that was closest to the reception area in a hilly resort that had other rooms uphill. Almost all players would land up in his room after the days play. Saha stuck a wonderful bond with each of them and this is going to do a lot of good to him as a player and vital member of the team. It boosts a players confidence when he shares a good rapport with other team members. This showed in Sahas game in the West Indies. He came into his elements in that series, scoring a total of 205 runs in 4 innings at an average of 51, including an excellent century in the third test at Gros Islet. He also took 8 catches and affected two brilliant stumpings. He continued that form in the recent home series against the New Zealanders by scoring 112 runs in three innings, remaining not out twice, at an average of 37. His overall Test batting average in 18 Tests is a healthy 31.09, having scored 684 runs with that lone century. He has 25 catches and 7 stumpings to his name.
With his recent performances, it can be safely said that Saha has come out of Dhonis shadow and is proving himself to be an able successor, at least in the wicketkeeping department. While he can never expect to match Dhonis batting flamboyance, Saha is solid in his own way. A comparison of statistics of the two in their first 18 Tests (as Saha has played only 18 till the day this piece was written) throws up interesting insights. Dhoni (Sahas figures in brackets) made 886 (684) runs in his first 18 Tests in 28 (26) innings at an average of 31.64 (31.09). Both scored just one century at this stage. Hence, it can be seen that their careers had a remarkable similarity in the batting department. But Dhoni had 50 catches and 10 stumpings to Sahas 25 and 7. There was also a big difference Dhoni was only 24 years old when he made his Test debut. Wriddhiman Saha was 26 when he made his accidental debut, but he got a regular place only when he touched 30 years in 2014. If Saha can play for another three to four years and if he can match Dhonis subsequent record, he would also be remembered as a good wicketkeeper batsman of India. But sadly, age is not on his side. Also, if injuries like the present one keep cropping up, he will afford others (like Parthiv Patel now) to usurp his place in the team.