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A glimmer of hope for Wriddhiman Saha

AFP

The Indian selectors have named the A squad for the three unofficial Test matches for the tour of West Indies. Many players who are already a part of the Indian set-up have been named in the squad. The tour will be a good opportunity for the likes of Prithvi Shaw, Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari to get used to the conditions before India’s two-match series against the West Indies commences. It will also be a chance for the likes of Shreyas Iyer, who is knocking on the doors of a call-up to impress the selectors. But one name, whose inclusion has caught the most eyeballs is wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha. Included in the squad for all the three unofficial four-day matches, the stage is set for the veteran keeper to remind everyone of his qualities after a long injury lay-off almost derailed his career.

Unheralded soldier

Ever since taking over the duties behind the stumps for India after Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s sudden retirement from Test cricket, Saha has flown under the radar. His work with the gloves has always been top-notch, gaining universal praise for his reflexes and catching abilities. But Saha the batsman has also been a serviceable member of the squad, playing some crucial knocks. Playing 32 matches for India, Saha has scored 1164 runs at an average of 30.63 with 3 centuries and 5 half-centuries. Not the greatest of batting records, but Saha’s cameo knocks batting at No.7 or No.8 have often bailed India out of tough situations or helped them pile up huge scores on the board. He has always batted within his limitations, not doing anything flashy and taking a stoic approach which always makes him hard to dismiss.

An untimely injury and the emergence of Rishabh Pant

Playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad during IPL 2018, Saha suffered a serious shoulder injury which kept him out of action for around 9 months. This kept him out of crucial away assignments like India’s tours of England and Australia. His injury also coincided with the rise through the ranks in domestic cricket for Rishabh Pant. Given his shot mid-way in the Test side during India’s tour of England, Pant has been a breath of fresh air with his attacking approach down the order. In the two away assignments, he has already played a couple of memorable knocks with centuries at the Oval against England and Sydney Cricket Ground against Australia. Pant is almost 13-years junior to Saha and is undoubtedly the future of the Indian team. But for all his exploits with the bat, his work behind the stumps has been often shoddy and he needs a lot of work under his belt to become a consistent keeper. He is also raw when it comes to assessing the situation of the game with the bat and these kinks have left the door open for Saha to make a strong case for his return.

The case for his return

If Saha manages to impress with the bat and shows signs that he hasn’t lost a step when it comes to his keeping, the doors will certainly be open for him to make a comeback in the Test squad. Pant still needs to fine-tune certain aspects of his game to be a force to be a reckoned with in international cricket. These kinks will only be ironed out over time at the domestic level, while still continuing his journey in international cricket. At 34, Saha still has a couple of years of international cricket left in him and he would be an able alternative for the Delhi batsman, while he still matures as a player. Captain Kohli and coach Shastri have been big proponents of giving a shot to players returning from injury, to regain their place. Saha will also have opportunities if he manages to impress at the domestic level as well as the A tours. Also, competition for places is always a healthy thing and the Indian team could only benefit from the battle for selection between the wily veteran and the exuberant youngster.

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