Wriddhiman Saha’s biggest capital in his 11-year international career has been his immaculate glove-work which is still sharp but Srikar Bharat’s neat work behind the stumps as a substitute keeper seems enough to give the 37-year-old Bengal stumper sleepless nights. Worse, Saha’s uncanny knack of picking up niggles and injuries at the wrong time isn’t also helping his cause along with his batting abilities which has deteriorated remarkably since the emergence of Rishabh Pant in the Indian Test horizon. On Saturday, Saha complained of stiff neck, minutes before the third day’s play was to start and Bharat, the second keeper doing his own routine, was told to do the job in the middle.
The pitch, one that had variable bounce with odd ball keeping really low and one or two climbing up from the spot, Bharat put his best foot forward during the 85.3 overs he was behind the stumps, taking two very different catches and a smart reflex stumping which could have gone wrong because of the uneven bounce.
It was a baptism by fire for the 28-year-old seasoned first-class cricketer, who has been an India A regular for past three years. “It’s not easy if you are not in 11 and then suddenly you have to come in,” day’s hero Axar Patel said when PTI asked him about Bharat’s performance.
“Wriddhi bhai had stiff neck and he (Bharat) was practising and doing his own warm-up, when he was suddenly told 10 minutes before the proceedings started. It is not very easy at one go to just channelise your thoughts.
“But as you saw, how he gathered the balls and how he took the catches and effected the stumping. He will get better in coming days,” Patel was all praise for the Andhra stumper.
Former India wicketkeeper and noted commentator Deep Dasgupta, who is in Kanpur covering the match for host broadcasters reckons what stood out for Bharat was the fact that all three were different catches.
“One that he took off Ashwin’s bowling to dismiss Will Young was a low take. The one that Axar got Ross Taylor was where the ball jumped but he was in nice position for the take,” Dasgupta told PTI.
“The stumping showed his quick reflexes as the ball bounced before he collected and dislodged the bails. So in all, he has a compact technique and if he is looked as a second keeper for future, it won’t be a bad idea,” he said.
The fact that Bharat has already played 78 first-class matches and has scored 4000 plus runs also holds him in good stead. To top it, his highest first-class score is 308 against Goa, a match where he opened the batting, was there at crease for eight and half hours and then contributed in eight dismissals while keeping wickets for more than 130 overs across two innings.
“Since he opens the batting, it also provides the team with options but I doubt, you would like to look at any short term solutions,” Dasgupta said.
However he agreed that at 37, Saha is not getting any younger.
“Wriddhi is still a fabulous keeper but one has to realise that the recovery from injuries at 22 is easier than what happens at 37. As a batter, he has always been a bit unconventional and a shaky starter to begin with,” the former Test player said.
In Bengal cricketing circles, who have watched Wriddhiman since he played U-19s and U-22 for the state side, feel that one of the massive problems has been a closed mindset when it comes to general improvement and taking responsibility.
Since he only plays one format, there have been umpteen times when he has been offered to lead Bengal but he has always refused saying that he only wants to concentrate on his game. As far as his batting is concerned, the way he batted when he first played Ranji Trophy against Hyderabad in 2007, there hasn’t been slightest of improvement and the technical loopholes outside the off-stump still exist.
For Saha, he is still the old school keeper for whom keeping is primary and batting is secondary. Till sometime back, he batted ahead of Ravindra Jadeja and now he has been pushed down the order. That’s a testament to the fact while team knows he is a world class keeper, they are not confident that he could win a match with the bat like he did with a superb double ton in Irani Trophy for Rest of India, a few years back.
He never had improvisation skills of the great Mahendra Singh Dhoni nor can he take a game away in a session like the maverick Rishabh Pant. Saha is stuck somewhere in between and even if he gets fit and plays the Mumbai Test, it would be difficult for the team to carry him unless his batting improves.
Bharat on the other hand has shown that the team might not miss Saha in the long run.
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