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Wriddhiman Saha's future in the Indian cricket team

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Wriddhiman_Saha_India_cricketOn 6th February 2010, India was facing South Africa in Nagpur for the 1st Test of the series. Wriddhiman Saha was chosen as the backup wicketkeeper for MS Dhoni ahead of Dinesh Karthik. Rohit Sharma, set to make his Test debut, suffered an injury and Saha got a chance to make his Test debut as a batsman.

8 years later, Saha is still trying to settle his place in the Indian Test side. After spending 4 years in the shadow of MS Dhoni, Saha finally got his chance to become India’s 1st choice wicketkeeper after Dhoni’s retirement from Test cricket. However, Saha’s prospects with Indian team don’t look great.
 
1. Frequent Injuries

Wriddhiman Saha has had a long list of injuries which have occurred throughout his career. In 2015, soon after taking over as India’s first choice wicketkeeper, he suffered a hamstring injury and could not play in the 3rd Test against Sri Lanka. This gave Naman Ojha his Test debut.

During England’s tour of India in 2016, Saha strained his left thigh during the second Test against England in Visakhapatnam. Parthiv Patel took his place as India completed their 4-0 series victory against England.

When Australia visited in 2017, though, Saha had a successful outing as a wicketkeeper and also scored runs. 2018, on the other hand, hasn’t been good for him so far. Just when he was gaining momentum in his career, he suffered another hamstring injury during the 2nd Test in South Africa. Once again, he lost his place to Parthiv Patel.

Throughout the IPL, Saha was in and out of Sunrisers Hyderabad’s playing XI due to his injuries. He suffered a thumb injury in Qualifier 2 due to which he missed not only the IPL final, but also historic inaugural Test match against Afghanistan.

2. Lack of Runs

Saha has previously stated, “I am a wicketkeeper first, then a batsman”. This suggests that he has more confidence in his wicketkeeping skills than in his batting skills. In India, its fine for a wicketkeeper to play a cameo with the bat as the batting line up is strong enough to put big runs on board. However, on overseas tours the role of a wicketkeeper becomes crucial.

On overseas tours, if India has a good wicketkeeper who can contribute with the bat, then the team can safely opt for playing an extra bowler. Saha has failed to make runs and hasn’t been able to hang around with the tail in matches outside the subcontinent.

Saha has the potential to score big runs. He has consistently scored runs in domestic cricket and had also batted aggressively in the IPL, proving that he is fit for shortest format of the game. He scored a magnificent century for Kings XI Punjab against KKR in the 2014 IPL final.

But the runs seem to have dried up for him. In IPL 2018, Sunrisers was the only team whose wicketkeeper did not deliver even a single match-winning performance with the bat. In international cricket, Saha has 3 centuries from 32 matches. The only one worth noticing amongst those three was his last one against Australia in Ranchi. The others came against the weak bowling line ups of West Indies and Bangladesh.

In his last appearance in Test cricket, the 1st Test against South Africa, Saha batted at No. 8 after Ashwin and Hardik Pandya and got out for a duck.

3. Competition from other keepers

There are as many as 6 other wicket keepers who are in contention to take Saha’s place in Indian Test side. In 2015, Naman Ojha was drafted in as his replacement. Then Parthiv Patel filled in for Saha against England and later against South Africa. Now, Dinesh Karthik has taken his place after he was ruled out from the Test match against Afghanistan. Ojha, Karthik and Parthiv are all senior to Saha in terms of experience.

The challenge to Saha’s place doesn’t end here. He also has competition from youngsters like Rishabh Pant, Ishan Kishan and Sanju Samson. Each member of this young trio is using every opportunity to try and make their cases stronger for selection in the national squad. It won’t be long before selectors are tempted to test these youngsters in Test cricket.

Given Saha’s form with the bat at the moment, all 6 of his competitors are far better than him in that respect.

4. Effects of Age

At 33, Saha is already leaning towards the tail end of his career. At that age, players usually believe that they can play competitive cricket for another 4-5 years. But looking at the frequency of Saha’s injuries and considering the heavy workload on wicketkeepers in Test cricket, it looks tough for Saha to keep playing for that long.

The BCCI has included Yo-Yo test as part of the selection criteria for Indian cricketers. Recently, players like Rayudu and Samson couldn’t pass the test and lost their place in the team. With age catching up with him, it will be difficult for Saha to clear the Yo-Yo test every time he makes a comeback from injury.

The lot of wicketkeepers is a thankless one. Wriddhiman Saha has always been a hard-working cricketer. He definitely has the potential to play cricket at highest level. But there is a chance that very few opportunities are left for him.

One of his strengths is his glove-work behind the stumps. Saha needs to catch every opportunity he can, as quickly as he can, in order to settle his place as a wicketkeeper-batsman in India’s Test team.

 

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