Saha delivers big yet again

20-03-2017
DH

Widely believed by many as the best wicketkeeper in the country, Wriddhiman Saha played just two Tests in the first four years after his unexpected debut in 2010 against South Africa in Nagpur. A freak injury to Rohit Sharma forced the team management to draft Saha as a specialist batsman. He managed a duck and 36 and had to wait for two more years for another chance, this time in Adelaide when MS Dhoni was injured. The right-hander mustered a combined 38 runs in two innings and predictably went out of sight. It wasn’t until Dhoni called time on his Test career in December 2014 that Saha became a regular in the 11.

While Saha has proved that he is more than a handy batsman, perhaps he is first wicketkeeper in recent times that has been preferred for his skills with the big gloves than with the bat. But given that India these days often play with only five specialist batsmen, Saha’s batting lower down the order becomes critical whenever the top-order has an off day. The Bengal player, it must be said, has more than managed to hold his own with the willow, chalking up some crucial knocks.

His maiden ton against the West Indies at Gros Islet last year came when the team was reeling at 125 for five. He followed up that knock with twin unbeaten half-centuries (54 and 58) against New Zealand in Kolkata in difficult conditions. While Saha’s second hundred against Bangladesh this February was an indication of his progress as a batsman, his third century here on Sunday against Australia will have given him the highest satisfaction.

Having joined double-centurion of the day Cheteshwar Pujara (202) on Saturday evening, Saha (117) raised 199 runs for the seventh wicket that put India beyond Australia’s grasp. “The best of the lot,” stressed Saha later, talking about his latest ton. “We needed a partnership, and we built it slowly. Puji (Pujara) made a double and I made a hundred, it has to be one of the best.” Saha attributed his success as a batsman to his increased confidence in playing shots that come naturally to him.

“Not too many changes,” he said when asked if he has made any changes to his batting. “But I am backing myself a lot more now to play my go-to shots -- the sweep and the shot over the top stepping out. Initially when I came into the Test team, I played those shots hesitantly but now I am 100 percent confident,” he reasoned.

The presence of a well-set Pujara at the other end was what Saha needed at that time. Pujara and Saha had had a couple of big partnerships before this match and the duo seemed to feed off that chemistry. “The way Puji was batting, you didn’t ever feel that a wicket would fall at one end,” said Saha.

“We had a 300-run partnership in the Irani Cup (in January), that was there on the back of our minds that we can bat together for long. In that game, Puji backed me and encouraged me to play my shots and be positive. The same approach was there today as well. He backed me and hence it was possible to have a good partnership,” he explained.

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