Kolkata: A day before their Qualifier 1 at the Eden Gardens, Wriddhiman Saha - the senior wicketkeeper-batter of Gujarat Titans from Bengal - struck a jarring note when he said Motera Stadium was his home venue and he was focused on the franchise’s campaign for now. Nothing wrong in it as the world of franchises is an entirely different one from domestic cricket.
However, there could have been a touch of irony in his statement as it emerged during the week that the 38-year-old had refused to turn out for his home state Bengal in the upcoming knockout stages of Ranji Trophy. While Saha has not spoken on the issue, his home state Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) confirmed on Thursday that he will not be available despite their request - not to speak of a personal phone call from the state’s head coach Arun Lal to change his mind.
What is that suddenly made the quiet performer, who earned a call-up to the national squad from Bengal and had been a part of it for close to 15 years, turn his back on the state? If that’s not enough, Saha has also asked for a NOC (no objection certificate) which will make him eligible to play for another state and informed sources say there are takers for this seasoned cricketer.
There is a compelling back story behind such a stubborn reaction on part of Saha - which reflects the emotional turmoil that he had been going through since last February. It started with his revelation that during the last South Africa tour, head coach Rahul Dravid called him aside for a one-to-one chat where the latter made it quite clear that the team management was looking beyond him for an younger candidate with an eye towards the future. In a momentary lapse of reason, he also insinuated that the BCCI President Sourav Ganguly apparently told him ‘not to worry’ as long as Dada was at the helm - a misplaced assurance if there was one as it would have to be a selectors’ call.
If Saha was expecting his state body to stand in solidarity (since he had performed well in the home series against New Zealand), there was none. The two parties were drifting apart and Saha made himself unavailable as Bengal were beginning their Ranji campaign. A senior CAB official further complicated things by questioning his ‘commitment’ to the state and said Saha had often feigned injuries and avoided playing for the state in the past over the years.
Meanwhile, Saha was fighting a personal battle on another front when he ‘exposed’ Boria Majumdar - a senior journalist - for threatening him for not obliging to give an interview. He won the battle on this front as the BCCI has now banned Majumdar from access to the Press boxes for two years after an inquiry.
The IPL season, where he had initially gone unsold, handed him another opportunity which Saha grabbed by both hands by playing an extremely effective role in the dream campaign for Titans - both behind the stumps as well as revelling in his role as an opener during the Powerplays. The IPL performance, however, failed to change the minds of the selectors as they named the squad for the one-off Test against England by naming K.S.Bharat as the second keeper to Rishabh Pant.
Now at the fag end of his career, Saha has rightly chosen to focus on his franchise and taken a rather tough call by turning his back on the CAB and burning bridges with men who matter. The final against Rajasthan Royals on Sunday gives him one last opportunity to show there is some cricket left in him!