Dubai: Wriddhiman Saha should get the nod ahead of young Rishabh Pant in the Test series against Australia in the year-end, according to Syed Kirmani, the legendary former Indian wicketkeeper.
The four-Test series in December-January is one of the few certainties in the cricketing calender for 2020, which has been ravaged by the Coronavirus pandemic, and the stakes will be certainly high for Virat Kohli & Co as they had recorded a historic Test series win during their last visit there in 2018-19. Saha, now 35, was left out in the dressing room during the two-Test series against New Zealand last February as Pant donned the gloves - with his so-called better batting skills giving him the edge.
‘‘I would prefer Saha for such a crucial series for he is technically more equipped for a high pressure affair like that while Pant still needs grooming,’’ said Kirmani, a key member of India’s 1983 World Cup winning squad and regarded arguably as the best wicketkeeper ever coming out of India.
Speaking to Gulf News in an exclusive interview over phone from the south Indian city of Bengaluru, the feisty 70-year-old said that much is often made out of the age factor these days - a factor which tends to tilt the scales against the Bengal stumper. ‘‘I don’t agree with the age factor as I feel cricketers mature between the age of 30 and 35 years in international cricket. In India, selectors are now obsessed with the idea of youth but I strongly feel that performers like Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly had another few years of cricket left in them when they retired.
‘‘Now with the under-19 cricket coming up in a big way, players are being fast-tracked and Pant is a product of that but he has got enough chances. Show me how many youngsters have won Tests for India in recent times?,’’ asked ‘Kiri.’
Not too many followers of Indian cricket remember that it was during Kirmani’s stint as the chairman of the selection committee that a certain Mahendra Singh Dhoni had made his international debut. ‘‘I don’t speak about this often as I feel that a selector should not claim credit as it’s eventually the performance of the player which makes the difference,’’ said Kirmani.
Recalling how they bumped into one of the biggest unconventional talents in India’s cricketing history, Kirmani recalled: ‘‘We were then looking for a replacement for Deep Dasgupta and Pranab Roy, the East Zone representative, told me about an exciting wicketkeeper-batsman from Jharkhand. When both of us went for the game, Dhoni was not keeping but fielding at fine leg and hence, we couldn’t see him in action. However, when we went through his statistics for last two years, we found out he was scoring consistently and decided to draft him in the zonal team. The rest, as they say, is history,’’ Kirmani said with a degree of satisfaction.
However, it had been more than 16 years since then and the biggest conundrum for Indian cricket now is when would Dhoni formally announce his retirement. Ask Kirmani and he would refrain from giving the multiple World Cup-winning captain any advice: ‘‘I am in no position to advise him. He is an extremely mature individual and knows what to do. When Dhoni decides to move on, he can think of coming into administration if he wants to as he has got the temperament and always carried himself as a very good role model.’’
A recipient of the CK Nayudu Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014-15, Kirmani’s ever-smiling presence behind the stumps was a reassuring one for India in both Tests and ODIs between 1976 and 1986 - with Bharath Reddy occasionally playing a second fiddle to him. The scenario is a completely different one for Indian cricket today with the selectors encountering a problem of plenty - with as many as three wicketkeepers (Dhoni, Pant and Dinesh Karthik) being part of the squad in the 2019 World Cup.
‘‘Yes, it’s a happy problem to have. I have been always a believer in the theory that wicketkeeping is a specialised job and feel even Karthik and Patel have performed very consistently in domestic cricket as well as the IPL. Still, we have used KL Rahul in the role in white ball cricket...I have never seen him keep at any level in Bengaluru,’’ Kirmani said.
There is, meanwhile, no clear indication about when the Indian cricketers can get down to some outdoor practice ahead of the remaining part of the season. Asked if there is any specific suggestion for the wicketkeepers to shake off the rust, Kirmani wanted them not to rush into international cricket as it may lead to breakdowns. ‘‘The BCCI should try to get their domestic season going with Ranji Trophy matches first and shift the focus to international cricket,’’ Kirmani signed off.