Dubai: The understated nature of Wridhhiman Saha, the Indian Test wicketkeeper, works as if in sync with the philosophy of Sunrisers Hyderabad. Despite the presence of a high profile captain and performer in David Warner, the franchise from southern India has shied away from the razmatazz and drawn heavily from it’s core Indianness to emerge as one of the most consistent teams in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Ever since them joining the IPL in place of the now disbanded Deccan Chargers in 2012, Sunrisers have won the title once 2016 but made it to the play-offs five times. ‘‘I have been with the team for three years now and one of the reasons behind our consistent perperformance had been the significant contributions of not-too-well-known Indian players. This year also, we have high expectations from the newcomers and hope to do well,’’ said Saha, for whom this is the fourth franchise.
Speaking to Gulf News during an exclusive chat through zoom from his hotel room, the 35-year-old admitted that it could be one of the most demanding IPL seasons on both physical and mental front. ‘‘While it’s not been easy to get back into the groove after not playing cricket for nearly six months, we hope to make the most of nearly a month to regain our match fitness. However, the mental part is tougher as our lives will revolve around the hotel rooms, practice sessions and matches. Even in this sprawling hotel where we are staying, we have explored only about 10% of it’s total area,’’ he said.
The seasoned wicketkeeper-batsman’s role will that be of playing second fiddle to Jonny Bairstow, who alongwith Warner, had been one of the most fearsome opening combinations in the league. However, Saha’s utility as one of most technically accomplished men behind the stumps and a dependable lower middle order batsman has come to the forefront time and again - not to speak about the fact that he has been the first to score a century in a IPL final in 2014 with Kings XI Punjab.
It was, incidentally, the year when IPL staged it’s opening leg in the UAE. Can this country, then, work as a luck charm for him? ‘‘Well, past is past. I got that century coming in at No.4 and the team did very well in the opening leg and continued the momentum when the tournament returned to India. If something like that is repeated this year, I will be the happiest person,’’ the Bengal wicketkeeper said with a shy smile.
It had been a somewhat chequered career for him in the IPL, where he shuttled between Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings, Kings XI Punjab and then with Hyderabad in his third season now. ‘‘For a wicketkeeper, the job had been even difficult to maintain the fitness levels. Unlike a few other states where the Indian cricketers could get a taste of outdoor practice, I couldn’t take a chance in Kolkata. After the first few months, I started doing some drills to work on my hand-eye coordination at the terrace of our residential complex, often with my father’s help,’’ Saha said.
For the unassuming ‘Pops,’ as he is nicknamed, it could be quite a while before he returns to the City of Joy as he is almost a certainty to be a part of the Test squad which could leave directly from the UAE for the series against Australia after the IPL final on November 10. India are scheduled to play a four-Test series there and Saha, who along with Rishabh Pant are the two names in running for the berth, has kept himself mentally ready for the challenge.
‘‘The team is not yet selected but yes, I have kept myself ready. It’s going to be a very vital series for us as in the World Test Championship, India and Australia are now in first and second positions, respectively, and the series will make a difference in terms of points. Given the strength of our squad, even if we can play 70-80% to our potential, then it won’t be easy for the Australians,’’ he observed.
Saha has left a young family back home with his wife Romi, six-year-old daughter Anvi and a boy who was born in early March. As the obvious question of missing the family came up, Saha said: ‘‘It’s for the first time in many years that I could spend such a long time with my family. However, it could now be a long break away from home if I am selected for the series Down Under. Right now, I am staying connected with the family from here with the platforms available.’’