Kolkata: Wriddhiman Saha, one of the senior pros who played his part in Gujarat Titans’ fairytale triumph in their debut season in IPL 2022, has never really been known to betray his emotions. The wicketkeeper-batter, however, is still overwhelmed at the heroes’ reception they received during the team’s open-top bus parade in Ahmedabad and was thankful to the new franchise for providing him a platform to show that he still has the skillsets to offer at the pressure cooker atmosphere of the league.
Now 37, the quiet performer who revealed earlier this year that the Indian head coach Rahul Dravid had told him in as many words that the team management was looking beyond him with an eye towards the future, was staring at an uncertain future as a professional cricketer. A disappointed Saha had opted out of his state team Bengal’s Ranji Trophy campaign and then was left unsold on the first day of the IPL mega auction.
However, the Titans management decided to go for the experienced cricketer - who had been a part of all 14 previous IPLs for different teams - as the second choice stumper and opening batsman. ‘‘I am happy that I could vindicate the faith the management and skipper Hardik Pandya showed in me to use as the keeper and opener in the crucial Powerplay,’’ Saha said on Wednesday evening after returning to his city.
Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive interview, a relaxed Saha tried to relive the experience of last few days. ‘‘I have been a part of champion sides before (Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad), but the reception which we got at Gujarat was really overwhelming. The crowd support with 100,000 people at the stands on Sunday also put enough pressure on our opponents when Rajasthan Royals batted first,’’ said Saha, who racked up 317 runs from 11 games with two Player of the Match awards for attacking half-centuries.
Asked if he thought there would be enough opportunities for him when Australian Matthew Wade kept in the first five games, Saha said with a wry smile: ‘‘See, Wade was our first choice keeper and also batted well in the last T20 World Cup. My job was to keep myself mentally ready and hence when Hardik told me that I would have to open and express myself at the Powerplay, it was easy for me as I had done the job before.’’
Saha, in fact, had been a part of IPL for so long that not many may remember that he also has a century against his name as an opener for Punjab Kings (then Kings XI Punjab) in the 2014 final against Kolkata Knight Riders - albeit in a losing cause. ‘‘From a personal point of view, I was a little disappointed that I failed to get going in both our knockout games but the most important thing was we went on to win the title. I know what it feels like scoring even a century in the final but still end up losing the battle,’’ said Saha.
A major part of Titans’ success recipe had been their team ethos - rather than depending on a handful of stars and of course, the leadership of Pandya. Saha, who has played under some of the finest captains in Mahendra Singh Dhoni, David Warner in IPL, broke it down well: ‘‘It’s a fact that not too many people had us much of a chance after the auction. However, I have seen in the past that too many stars often lead to the cliche of too many cooks spoiling the broth but here - all of us had clear roles and hence felt that they belonged.
‘‘If you look at our first seven to eight wins which set the momentum, you will see that we had different players emerging as the Player of the Match. This meant all of them were putting their hands up to contribute.’’
Saha was also pleasantly surprised at the maturity of Pandya as a performer and leader over the last two months. ‘‘A big plus for Hardik was that he himself was performing with both the bat and ball - and this certainly helps in leading the side. When he used to play for Mumbai Indians, his role was different as he used to come down the order and hardly got 4-5 overs to hit around the park. However, he was a top order batter for us and adapted to the needs of the situation. The other signficant aspect of his leadership was he was not remonstrating on the ground and the way he tried to rally the team around - taking on board inputs from players who were in the dugout,’’ said Saha.
A big plus for Hardik was that he himself was performing with both the bat and ball - and this certainly helps in leading the side. When he used to play for Mumbai Indians, his role was different as he used to come down the order and hardly got 4-5 overs to hit around the park. However, he was a top order batter for us and adapted to the needs of the situation
After a rather draining last few months, Saha wants to spend some quality time with his family for now. A tricky question remains on how much of competitive cricket he would get to play between now and the next IPL since he has refused to play for Bengal in their knockout stages after a senior state official had questioned his ‘commitment’ to the state and had refused to budge from his stance despite requests from the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) President and Bengal head coach Arun Lal.
‘‘To be honest, I am yet to decide on domestic cricket and which state I will play for. All I can say is that I don’t play cricket to prove anything more to anybody and do so because I am still fit and love my sport. As long as I am enjoying the game, I will continue to play,’’ he signed off.