SAKSHAM MISHRA | 5 OCTOBER, 2019
Wriddhiman Saha Ahead of Pant in Tests - Logical but Short Sighted
‘According to me, he is the best keeper the world’ - Virat Kohli
For many following Indian cricket on and off, but not fully engrossed in its workings on a daily basis, the inclusion of Wriddhiman Saha in the Indian Test XI ahead of Rishabh Pant might have made little sense.
Did Team India ditch the Delhi keeper-batsman on the basis of his poor white-ball form, or was it his lack of batting acumen in the Indian subcontinent?
Saha, the superior keeper
The decision was based purely on wicketkeeping skills. In countries such as South Africa, New Zealand, Australia and England which have quick pitches and offer consistent bounce, it is easier to keep as the ball comes at a good height and typically you are standing far behind the stumps. When the spinners bowl, there are not many sudden variations off the surface, especially in the first three-four days.
But in the subcontinent it’s a totally different ball game: on some pitches the ball will literally spin from day one. It keeps low sometimes, shoots off the surface and plays all sorts of tricks. To deal with that you need a specialist keeper, trained for years in the art, to have the best chance of snaffling all or most opportunities.
Pant, the superior batsman
Rishabh Pant might have taken big strides in test cricket with centuries in England and Australia, becoming the first Indian keeper-batsman to do so and the second from Asia, but his wicketkeeping is still a work in progress. Pant has not kept enough in first-class cricket and needs a lot more matches behind him to refine his glovework.
There is little comparison between the two batsmen as far as their test figures are concerned. Pant averages 44.4 with 754 runs from 11 tests. Saha has in 32 tests scored 1,164 runs at an average of 30.6.
The more important stat here is that Pant averages 38 abroad, which is a substantial number given that 300 or so can turn out to be a match-winning score. Saha has hardly played in South Africa, England, New Zealand and Australia, and when he did his technique didn’t inspire much confidence.
So it is understandable that India went with Saha in home conditions. But what will they do on an overseas test jaunt?
Team management backing Saha
When Saha was included in India’s test squad along with Rishabh Pant for the West Indies tour, many felt it was a move that stood for nothing. As it turns out, Saha seems to be Kohli’s first-choice keeper and was always coming back. It was just a matter of when and where.
In fact, after the West Indies tour, chief selector M.S.K.Prasad had already given signs of looking to other options. “We are monitoring the workload of Rishabh. Of course, we have been grooming backups across all formats. We have the young K.S.Bharath doing well in the longer format for India A. We also have Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson doing well in the shorter formats for India A and in domestic cricket.”
What has helped, of course, is that Saha has shown some fight recently with the bat also, performing well in List A matches. He scored two 60s against West Indies A and a 60 against South Africa A in Mysore recently. Pant, on the other hand, could only add 58 runs in the two-match Test series against the West Indies.
Apart from the time-honoured convention of bringing an established player back into the playing XI after an injury, the faith that Virat Kohli has in Saha has also helped him make a comeback.
“Saha’s keeping credentials are for everyone to see. He has done well with the bat whenever he has got a chance. It was unfortunate that he was out with an injury. According to me, he is the best keeper in the world. With these conditions he starts for us,” the skipper said in the pre-match press conference.
Being the best wicketkeeper in the country, this is no doubt a lifeline for Wriddhiman Saha. But you expect some more consistency in Team India's plans.