Who is the best wicket-keeper in contemporary cricket? Ask this question to anyone and the answer will simply be Wriddhiman Saha, of course, we are talking about Test cricket here because MS Dhoni easily stands out in shorter formats. Yes, there are few more names, but Saha has been incredible.
Rated very highly by the experts, Saha has been outstanding behind the stumps. He has hardly made any mistake and inspires confidence with his lightning quick reflexes and horse-like stamina. He has cupped some mind-boggling catches and earned accolades for the same. Wicket-keeping is one of the toughest jobs in cricket. A wicketkeeper is involved every delivery and the workload is massive.
Saha has grown in stature over the years and skipper Virat Kohli has acknowledged his fantastic skills time to time. Kohli spoke highly about Saha during the Colombo Test earlier this year, where the latter was prolific behind the stumps on a difficult wicket.
Kohli said, “Four byes on that sort of pitch speaks volumes of the kind of ability he has. He’s right up there in world cricket among the very best. He’s the best keeper in this format right now, I’d say. You saw his keeping today, how agile he is. He can create chances at any stage. He’s very safe behind the stumps and he’s been outstanding.”
With India, all set for the South African tour, the anticipation for the same is on a high. They do have a high on confidence side, that has done well in the home season in registering emphatic wins one after the other but South Africa will be a tough nut to crack. While most of the talks have been related to the batting and bowling, let’s take a look at the kind of challenge Saha has to overcome in bouncy South African conditions as a wicketkeeper.
Till date, Saha has played 31 Tests, out of which, 18 have been played at home and the rest on foreign soil, which includes, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Bangladesh and Australia. He is yet to play a Test in England, South Africa and New Zealand.
One wouldn’t be wrong in saying that South Africa is a tough place to keep wickets. The bounce and pace in the pitch at times make it tedious for the wicketkeeper. It certainly requires a different set of skills, and Saha certainly possesses those. But the shift or the adjustment will be difficult to make.
India played a lot of Test cricket in the sub-continent recently, further getting used to the conditions. The last 17 Tests that Saha played was in India and Sri Lanka. The conditions in both the countries are no different. He enjoys keeping against spin and did a commendable job in keeping wickets against the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, who keep the batsmen on their toes with their immaculate control.
In South Africa, spinners won’t be playing the lead role, but seamers will. The pace attack will be they key to get 20 wickets, and one can expect a lot of action behind the stumps, including the slip cordon. With the extra hint of bounce, most of the deliveries collected in South Africa would be with the fingers pointing upwards.
Saha needs to adapt to the conditions quickly, he has the ingredients and it will be interesting to see how well and quickly he makes the shift. A wicket-keeper plays a very important role in such highly tensed games. A dropped catch behind the stumps might break the momentum and bowler’s confidence.
Also, India would not want to give the likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock reprieves. They are known for playing marathon innings and India can’t afford to step a foot wrong. With a highly potent pace attack, India stand a solid chance and Saha has to shoulder a major responsibility. A lot has been spoken about India’s vulnerable slip cordon, but Saha has hardly made any mistake and one can expect him to live up to the expectations in taxing South African conditions as well.
Not just with the gloves, Saha will also have a crucial role to play with the bat. India have made it quite clear to go with a five-bowler strategy, which puts a bit of pressure on the batting unit to click. Saha averages just over 32 with the bat in Tests, his contribution lower down the order will be crucial.
Also, Saha possesses tremendous technique against short-pitched deliveries, which will turn out to be handy in South Africa. There is a lot to come from Saha the batsman, and this tour can just be another stepping stone in his Test career. The series opener kick starts January 5, Cape Town.