India in Australia 2011-12 January 20, 2012

Saha's chance to right farcical debut

Since playing as a batsman in 2010, Wriddhiman Saha has been a perpetual standby. But with MS Dhoni under pressure, and his peers failing to make an impact, Adelaide could be his chance to impress the selectors

Wriddhiman Saha will not end up as just an answer to the trivia question: "Who is the Indian wicketkeeper who played one Test for no dismissals or byes, and scored 0 and 36?" Thanks to the slow over-rate ban on MS Dhoni, Saha will get a proper opportunity to play in a Test, in Adelaide.

Record-books will tell you Saha has already made his Test debut, but this will be his first real Test match. He made his debut in bizarre circumstances. India's squad for the first Test against South Africa, in February 2010, included - you better believe it - just six batsmen. A day before the Test VVS Laxman fell sick. Luckily Rohit Sharma was in town. He was asked to stay back. On the morning of what would have been Rohit's debut, though, he injured himself while warming up.

Without warning, Saha, in the squad as the reserve wicketkeeper, was thrown into the unknown, as a specialist batsman who would bat at No. 7. Like a ghost he walked into a red-hot Dale Steyn spell, and shouldered arms to a big reversing inswinger. Bang went the off stump, and you wondered if that would be the lasting image of Saha's career. Laxman was sure to come back and reclaim his place, Dhoni would keep on keeping, but unwittingly Saha had become the face of the selectorial farce that played a part in that huge innings defeat.

For almost two years since then Saha has travelled with the team without getting a second game. A chance at redemption seemed nowhere in sight. Apart from being standby keeper for home Tests, Saha has been to Sri Lanka, South Africa, England and Australia, getting a fielding session here, a net there. Now, though, he will play. And once again, for the sake of sameness, Rohit will still be waiting for his debut. Such is life.

Back to Saha, though. He is rated highly as a wicketkeeper by those who have seen him in domestic cricket. Gautam Gambhir said two days after Dhoni was banned: "He is a very good wicketkeeper and hopefully he can contribute with the bat as well. I want to wish him good luck as playing in Australia is going to be tough. He is a gritty kind of player."

Saha said he has spent enough time on the sidelines, waiting for his chance. "I have been travelling with the team for a long period," he said. "Now that I have got the chance I just want to do what I have learned right from my younger days."

Reminded of his debut, Saha didn't sound bitter. "I remember that day," he said, "but mostly because it was my first match. I remember the circumstances in which I debuted. But I had told myself I would try my best: be it batting, fielding or keeping."

Saha said there was no pressure on him because it was cricket he was going out to play after all. "I don't feel any extra pressure. Right from my childhood I have played freely. Even when I play in India, be it a club game or state game, I take them similarly."

Saha said he had prior experience of keeping wickets in Australia so that should not be too much of a bother. "I have played here in the Emerging Trophy. I kept wickets in a lot of two-day games, one-day games and Twenty20s. It wasn't a big problem keeping in Australia so I should be fine."

Wicketkeeping in India has led to a dead end for everyone other than Dhoni ever since he smashed that 148 against Pakistan in Vizag in 2004-05. Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik have had their chances, often as specialist batsmen in ODIs, but neither of them has been able to stake an absolute claim to being the second-best wicketkeeper in the country. Dhoni, to his credit, has shown he is better than them purely as a wicketkeeper too. All the while the selectors have earmarked Saha as the Test back-up.

Now is Saha's time - as Dhoni's performance and captaincy in Tests comes under the scanner - to try to do better than Karthik and Parthiv, and possibly give the selectors an option that will help ease Dhoni's workload.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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