Ahead of the Test series against South Africa, Indian skipper Virat Kohli threw a mild surprise when he announced that Wriddhiman Saha would keep the wickets against Proteas. Rishabh Pant had seemingly taken on the role of a wicketkeeping regular in the whites for India after impressive performances in England and Australia. It was expected that the 21-year-old youngster will be set to appear in his maiden full-fledged home series, but the team management decided to bring back the more experienced of the lot.
While confirming Saha's participation in the series, Kohli even said that the Bengal cricketer is the ‘best keeper’ in the world. “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,” Kohli had said.
After the 9 days of cricketing action since, Saha has produced moments which highly support Virat Kohli’s claim.
Saha is not the sort of batsmen-keepers we often see in Test cricket these days. In the era where batting abilities take precedence over the ones usually needed behind the wickets, Saha rekindles the presence of pure wicketkeepers in the side.
During the ongoing Test series, Wriddhiman Saha has played a direct role in 7 dismissals so far – all catches. His presence behind the wickets has been an exhibition of sorts – and learning for wicketkeepers around the world. He isn’t loud behind the wickets, but his accuracy in instinctive movements and ball-tracking help grow trust with the slip cordon.
Saha’s operation of work is quite simple, but it must be backed with supreme confidence in one’s own ability. It is because the Bengal wicketkeeper doesn’t usually come into action until the batsman nicks the delivery. It is relatively unconventional, but it works brilliantly for Saha. We saw the best of it all in Saha's successful catches with pacers.
Take Theunis de Bruyn’s catch in the second Test, for example. It was a short-pitched delivery, and de Bruyn attempted to punch it. It was only when the shot was played when Saha decided to leap towards his right. The strong edge deviated the direction of the ball, but the wicketkeeper remained firm in his belief that he would reach it in time. The catch was a conventional one for the first slip, but Saha’s magnificent leap denied Pujara (the man standing in the first-slip position) the moment of glory.
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Earlier today, we saw another instance which suggested the same. The bowler was, again, Umesh Yadav, and the batsman, again, Theunis de Bruyn. This time, though, the bowler bowled way down the leg-side. The batsman, aiming to capitalize on a relatively easy delivery with a flick, edged it. Again, Saha came into action after the batsman committed the error. He took a big stride towards his left, before making an incredible leap to take a one-handed catch.
While most keepers work aggressively to achieve efficient hand-eye coordination, it is almost as if all of it comes naturally to Saha. And it is justifiably backed by stats. By numbers, Saha’s catching against pacers the best in the world since the last two years. According to a stat from CricViz, the wicketkeeper has taken 96.9% of catches against pace bowling, which is the highest among all the glovesmen who have taken at least 10 catches since 2017.
“Time and again, a lot of people from within the team have spoken about Saha and it’s a no-brainer to say Saha is one of the best going around,” Ravichandran Ashwin had said about the wicketkeeper after the end of Day 3 in the second Test.
Saha’s incredible reflexes become more noteworthy as the wicketkeeper is now nearing 35. He kept out the 21-year-old Rishabh Pant, whose comparatively poor wicketkeeping against spinners was one of the primary reasons behind the Bengal veteran taking on the role at home. Saha’s position in the XI may be debatable when the side embarks on the overseas tour to New Zealand next year (as the team management may incline towards giving priority to Pant’s batsmanship), but such marvellous wicketkeeping performances at this age do more than required to repay the faith Virat and co. have showed in him.