Incidentally, injuries and Saha have had a long history. It was a freak injury to Rohit Sharma while warming up ahead of the Test against South Africa in February 2010 that saw Saha make his debut. But since then, it has been all about ill-timed injuries and missed opportunities for a player who was the heir-in-waiting for the wicket-keeper’s role in the Test team ever since breaking into the scene through age-group cricket in Bengal.
With MS Dhoni still playing Test cricket, Saha had to wait for his opportunities. But it finally came in Australia in 2014 when Dhoni announced his Test retirement after the third match of the series in Melbourne. However, four years down the line, Saha has played 29 of the 36 Test matches that the team has played since Dhoni’s retirement — missing the other 7 due to injury — and is yet to adapt to the aggressive style of approach that skipper Virat Kohli likes in the middle.
While Saha has had a consistent run, he has somehow never felt settled in India’s scheme of things. While the likes of Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel would assiduously work for hours on their batting skills to try and break into the team as a pure batsman, this thought either eluded Saha or he didn’t think he was good enough to be the sixth batsman in the team. The second view though would be unfair considering he averages a decent 30.63 in 32 Tests with three hundreds. But then, Saha isn’t known for the flamboyance that a Kohli revels in.
Speaking to CricketNext just before the tour of South Africa, considered one of the toughest tours in recent times, Saha had openly spoken about the confidence both Kohli and chief coach Ravi Shastri had shown in him. In fact, even chief selector MSK Prasad spoke about how Saha was a better keeper than Patel when the latter replaced him in the home series against England and scored runs to stake a claim in the playing XI.
But then, as has been the case with Saha throughout his start-stop career, an injury was waiting to happen. With the Indian team looking to fight fire with fire in the Rainbow Nation, after an evenly contested opening Test in Cape Town, Saha managed to sustain an upper left hamstring tendon injury before the second Test in Centurion. And that was the end of the South Africa tour for the wicket-keeper.
With no Tests lined-up after the South Africa series, Saha was expected to use the IPL to get fit for the one-off Test against Afghanistan and the England series that would follow. But Saha managed to almost buy an injury as he hurt his thumb in the IPL. The end result was a soft plaster on his thumb as Karthik wore the keeper’s gloves in the Afghanistan game.
Luck too hasn’t been Saha’s best friend at times. An injury that was expected to take four to five weeks to heal has now gone on overtime mode and the keeper doesn’t look good to get into match fitness till the second half of the five-game series against England. With no practice games lined-up in the middle of the series, it will be a miracle if he manages to make his way into the team even after attaining full fitness.
Those who have seen him from close quarters feel that it is a combination of three factors — injuries, lack of confidence at the crease and a nature quite contrary to the one Kohli demands from his men — that has seen Saha fail to cement his place even four years after the team management handed him the keeper’s slot in the Test format.
But time and tide waits for none. At 33, Saha isn’t getting any younger and the Bengal player is at a crossroad where he must buckle up quickly as the likes of Karthik, youngster Rishabh Pant and Patel are breathing down his neck. Yes, he doesn’t have control over injuries, but then, more importantly what he does need to answer is whether he has the mental aptitude to rise to the demands of being a wicket-keeper who can be a handy bat on foreign soil.
Because, as he well knows, at the international level, the battle is more in the head than it is on the field.
dinesh karthikengland vs india 2018India vs EnglandMS Dhoniparthiv patelRavi ShastriRishabh Pantvirat kohliWriddhiman Saha
First Published: July 16, 2018, 2:59 PM IST