Wriddhiman Saha’s absence in the five-match Test series will be a major blow for Virat Kohli’s Team India as they get ready to conquer the ‘bigger challenges’ in the upcoming months.
India captain Kohli and coach Ravi Shastri have always maintained that they want to win matches outside the sub-continent and conquer the world. While the pair keeps mentioning that every series is important nonetheless, there has always been an undertone of winning series abroad being the team’s main aim…something that hasn’t happened over the past decade.
But, losing your best keeper due to an injury without a single ball bowled is never a good way to start. Saha will be replaced by an able custodian in Dinesh Karthik behind the stumps and he will be backed up by a budding youngster in Rishabh Pant, who is high on confidence after a sensational run in domestic cricket, followed by the Indian Premier League and then the highly successful tour of England with India A.
But, will it be that easy to replace someone of Saha’s calibre? Well…mostly, people will say yes because Karthik is a better batsman overall but batting has never been the reason why Saha made it to the Indian Test team. It has always been his skills behind the stumps.
Saha, 33, has been fairly unlucky in his playing career as he has always remained under the shadows of an ever-present Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Forever playing second fiddle, Saha would only get a chance if Dhoni missed a match, which was rarely a case because of his supreme fitness and importance to the Indian team. Having played only 32 Tests since making his red-ball debut against South Africa in Nagpur in 2010, Saha became a Team India regular after Dhoni announced his retirement from the longest format of the game in Australia in 2014. Since then, very few have played more Tests than the Bengal wicket-keeper batsman.
Saha’s patience is the testament to his success and that is where he is so important to the team as well. During long sessions on the field, his voice won’t go down. One could always hear Saha chirping and motivating the bowlers and telling them where to bowl…especially the spinners. His understanding with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja has been one of the key reasons behind India’s recent success in Test cricket. Nobody reads the ball better from the hand as well as the surface than Saha and add to that his quick reflexes, Saha’s wicket-keeping has earned him plaudits from players and pundits alike.
Some would say that he is a better wicket-keeper than Dhoni and they are not wrong. Saha is an old-school keeper, who depends more on watching the ball and reacting and keeping it simple unlike Dhoni, who is more street-smart in how he goes about things behind the stumps. Both have been effective but the reason behind Saha’s success in Test cricket has been old-school methods and he has stuck to it.
Saha however, hasn’t been the best of judges when it comes to Decision Review System (DRS). Since the technology has become a regularity, Indians have had a mixed record with the system. Dhoni has been terrific with it but Saha…not so much. The role of the wicket-keeper during reviews plays a huge role and this is where Karthik comes into the frame.
Karthik is a decent keeper but a brilliant reader of the game. He showed flashes of his brilliance during India’s one-off Test against Afghanistan. Karthik, who replaced Saha, made a comeback into the Indian Test side after eight years. Karthiik’s decision to review a Mohammad Nabi leg-before from Umesh Yadav’s delivery proved to be bang on. While everybody was reluctant to go up stairs, Karthik was determined that it was out and stand-in captain Ajinkya Rahane decided to go with him and the gamble paid off. Prior to that as well, Karthik stood out in the Nidahas Trophy with his ability to read the game and help Rohit Sharma in the absence of Dhoni and Kohli.
What also works in Karthik’s favour is his ability to provide more security with the bat at No. 6. Saha is a decent player but he has never been able to give the assurance to the team management as a proper batsman. But, with Karthik, that won’t be the case. He can bat as good as anybody and can provide much needed stability at No. 6…taking the pressure off from the likes of Ravichandran Aswhin and Hardik Pandya, who follow.
While Karthik is no Saha behind the stumps, he is no muck either. He has been keeping wickets since time immemorial and made his debut even before Dhoni. Much like Saha, he would like to believe that he did everything possible to play for India but Dhoni’s presence made it impossible to do so. As a keeper, he is sharp and athletic, his movement to his left remains a concern but he would hope that his experience of keeping to both Ashwin and Kuldeep before this will help his cause.
Also, Karthik has played in England before and was a part of the 2007 Test series victory under Rahul Dravid. He do a decent job keeping to Anil Kumble and also played a few crucial knocks with the bat. He finished with 264 runs in the three-match series — the highest from the visiting team.
But, his keeping against the spinners will be key to India’s success and if he passes it with flying colours, Karthik could well be India’s keeper in whites for a long time to come.
Moving on to Pant, it will be more of a learning experience for the Delhi wicket-keeping batsman. He is unlikely to get a game in at least the first two Tests until and unless there’s an injury to Karthik. And, if he does, his experience in keeping in English conditions over the past couple of months will surely aid him. Pant has affected 17 dismissals in eight matches including 16 catches and one stumping with India ‘A’ during their tour of England.
His batting has also been good. With India ‘A’, Pant has scored four fiftiesincluding twin half-centuries in the last unofficial Test against England Lions. Prior to that, he had scored over 900 runs in the 2017-18 season of the Ranji Trophy and 684 runs from 14 matches for Delhi Daredevils in the IPL as well.
Pant recently said that his dream of being selected in India’s Test squad came true and he would be hoping to get a game in England in the five-match Test series and make it count. The talent is there and the ability as well but it remains to be seen if Karthik grabs his opportunity in Saha’s absence or falters yet again in whites, thus, paving the way for India’s ‘next generation’ of keepers.
News credit : Indiatoday