Kolkata: Wriddhiman Saha may be the oldest member of the South Africa-bound Indian squad at 37 years, but he loves proving his detractors wrong. Of course, in his quiet, unfussy manner.
Just when a section of the media had written him off saying that the first Test against New Zealand could be his last one, Saha has again earned himself the second wicketkeeper’s berth for the three-Test tour against the Proteas. A stubborn 61 not out which he scored in Kanpur by playing with a stiff neck, followed by some smart work behind the stumps and useful cameos with the bat in Mumbai, was good enough for the selectors to keep their faith on the stumper once again ahead of a younge competitor in K.S.Bharat as second fiddle to Rishabh Pant.
Was there any extra pressure on him to perform in the series against Kiwis? ‘‘I have never approached a match conditionally that I need to perform well in this one in order to earn a ticket for the next series. Since the last two-three years, I get a chance to play only when Rishabh (Pant) is not fit or rested, so I take it on a match-by-match basis and do my best to keep myself ready,’’ said Saha, back in the city for a small break before joining the squad in the bubble from December 12.
Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview, the Bengal stumper - who could not keep wickets for a better part of both Kiwi innings in the Kanpur Test because of the pain - said that he decided to experiment with a more open stance to watch the ball till late. ‘‘There was no option for me as I would not have been able to negotiate the deliveries with a normal side-on stance. Yes, we were in a precarious position when I went into bat and was really happy to contribute to the team cause,’’ he said.
Despite completing more than a decade in international arena (it was way back in 2010 on South Africa tour when Saha was fielded as a batsman with VVS Laxman getting injured), the journey of this introvert, but enormously resilient character, had been a chequered one. He had to wait under the great MSD’s shadows as Dhoni used to play in all formats and only when he quit Tests in end-2014, Saha got a nod.
‘‘After Mahi bhai left, I played continuously for three-four years before my shoulder injury around 2018. This is when Pant came in and impressed with his approach and from there onwards, I am mentally prepared to play the second fiddle. The selection is of course not in my hands and hence, all I can do is to keep myself ready,’’ a pragmatic Saha said.
Much as he has won the accolades from India’s wicketkeeping legends like Farokh Engineer and Syed Kirmani, Saha is judged more as the stereotype of a wicketkeeper-batsman - giving an edge to Pant or the upcoming K.S.Bharat, who filled in for him when Saha was down with stiff neck in Kanpur. Asked if he really sees his batting capabilties as a shortcoming, Saha - owner of three Test centuries - said: ‘‘It’s for you all to judge. However, along with the 100s or fifties that I may have got, there are quite a few 30s or 40s which has helped the team in times of crisis. I would take that any day.’’
Saha’s relationship with Pant has often a subject of speculation, but he is candid enough to talk about it. ‘‘It’s a natural once between colleagues. Over the last few years, I had walked up to him if I had seen any issues with an advice while he has done the same. I also feel that Bharat is an extremely promising keeper and we had done a few A tours together in the past. We had a good interaction on our craft with our new fielding coach during the New Zealand series,’’ he said.
What had been his first impressions about the new coach Rahul Dravid? ‘‘Much like Ravi bhai, he also talks about the process. If there is any difference, Rahul bhai is little more hands-on and gets into the smaller details for each one of us,’’ he said.
Finally, the inevitable question - how long does he wish to continue? ‘‘I love this sport and haven’t yet thought about hanging up the gloves. That time hasn’t come,’’ was all that he would say!