As India keep their relentless march to the top of the World championships points table, one of India’s most soft spoken and low profile cricketers has quietly made a wonderful comeback after a nagging shoulder injury which took almost ages to recover to the point of almost ending his international career. Wriddhiman Saha became an Indian regular in test cricket after Dhoni retired from tests format in 2014 and since then the Bengal keeper had been a reliable cricketer behind the stumps , carrying out his responsibilities with minimum of fuss, and whats more , raised the level of Indian test wicket keeping to greater heights . While he was not Dhoni’s class as a batter, he still came up with important knocks in the lower order and has 3 test hindreds to his name including a match turning century vs Australia at Ranchi in a gripping test match in 2017. Where Saha scored over Dhoni was his keeping skills and hence maintained his spot in test cricket till injuries laid him low in 2018.
Saha had to leave midway into the South African tour with a shoulder niggle and went through treatments .However the same was aggravated in IPL 2018 where he never should have played. There were issues with his treatment as it went the wrong track and he was given multiple injections but there were no improvements. Finally it became clear the Saha needs a surgery to get it back to original shape. The injury was serious and career threatening. The surgery happened in mid 2018 , post which he had to go through a strict rehabilitation schedule with NCA and was subject to frequent visits. It was a mentally tough period for him as he had to adhere to strict routines for his recovery, which takes a lot of patience after a serious surgery. While Saha was in his recovery process , Rishabh Pant became India’s main keeper and though his keeping was not of the same high standards of Saha, his more superior and belligerent batting in test cricket impressed everyone as he knocked off impressive 100s in England and Australia in away series. Hence Saha ,if he wanted to regain his test spot had to start all over again.
However ,Saha kept working on his fitness regiment and raised the level of his practice to get back into top shape. His training included keeping on various surfaces against different type of bowlers, as variations in bowling and pitch conditions call for different keeping skillsets. It was not an easy job to get back into the best physical and mental shape after a career threatening shoulder injury and only more practice could have got him back into top shape.
Saha was given all clear early 2019 , as he started to play in domestic events and India A matches to get back into his groove , but a possible India comeback was long way off with Pant now the firm first choice keeper.
However things started to move differently after World cup when Saha after proving his fitness and form was back as India’s reserve keeper for West Indies tour in test format but Pant was now the first choice . However poor batting returns in the West Indies tour made Pant’s spot in the team vulnerable as moreover his keeping was struggling to reach the expected levels. Also some unnecessary public comments about Pant by the team management did not help his cause as he looked to be in confused state of mind when going out to bat, unable to get into his free flowing form.
Things failed to improve for young Pant even in the home T20 series vs South Africa as his struggles with bat and gloves continued and finally ,the Indian captain announced before the first test against the Proteas, that Saha will be the first choice keeper for the test series.
Hence ,the much awaited comeback happened in the first test at Vizag. Saha was under pressure as due to exclusively his superior keeping skills , he was now preferred instead of a keeper who is the more superior batsman and the first choice till last series. Thus he was slightly subdued and even dropped a straightforward chance of Dean Elgar off Jadeja in 1st test which proved costly for that innings though India finally won the test. However it was a different Saha, who was back in his normal self in the 2nd test, raising the keeping levels to unseen heights in India. Two acrobatic catches off fast bowlers and a superb low catch off spin ,keeping the glove in right spot , ensured that he is back at it his best. His balance off both feet , nimble footwork and great anticipation was one of the highlights of the 2nd test as he ended with 7 dismissals for the game . He also looked in good batting touch in the series while playing his swift cameos as he batted when quick runs were required. The good run continued in subsequent tests and finally his keeping reached heights of excellence in the pink ball test at his home ground, Eden Gardens with the ball swinging prodigiously in twilight hours and under lights and also the sighting was getting difficult in evening. Saha’s astonishing diving catch off Mahmudullah, with the ball almost dying into the ground was one of the talking points of the first days play of pink test. For the record ,Saha completed his test double in pinkball test crossing his 100th keeping dismissal in tests in addition to his 1200 plus test runs at a decent 30 average and thus completing his double, which is a dream for all keepers. India’s head coach Ravi Shastri announced after Kolkata test that Saha is the best Indian keeper he has seen in 40 years and he is even ahead of Kirmani and can be compared to the great Alan Knott. There cannot be a greater accolade for Saha. Also the current Indian bowling group is grateful to have Saha keeping for them. At 35 years of age ,he is not getting any younger but his fitness levels are not going to diminish in a hurry. He looks lean and mean and extremely agile . He only needs to score few runs in tests specially in overseas to fully seal his spot. He is a keeper-batsman rather than the other way around. Now its upto Rishabh Pant to upgrade his keeping and get back his batting mojo to make a comeback in tests format while KS Bharat being already touted in many circles as Saha’s successor in tests with his agile keeping and free flowing batting skills as he has been scoring heavily of late in India A matches.
However as of now Saha looks firmly entrenched in the keeping job for which he should definitely thank his captain Virat Kohli, who acknowledged Saha’s skills and realised the requirement of a skillful keeper in tests specially in India where spinners have a big role to play.
The shy youngster from Siliguri, in Bengal has come a long way showing his patience and resilience in difficult times. Now,with no test matches around and with India playing shorter formats, Saha will be representing Bengal in Ranji Trophy before New Zealand tour.(something to be noted by our more high profile cricketers). Hopefully his best is ahead of him.