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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Senthil on January 23, 2012, 8:11 GMT

    Let us drop Gambir also. He is not going to win matches for India. This team will loose in Adelaide and white wash is sure. Better not to watch the misery. Like Ganguly sidi this team can not win and Ian Chappel also said Loosing is habit.

    Atelast india should play well in ODIs and T20s

  • Vishal on January 23, 2012, 5:08 GMT

    Fair warning - this is off topic (although the write did mention Rohit's name in the above post). It will be a travesty if Rohit doesn't get to play in this tour. What is the point of all the talent if that talent is not given a chance in the seaming condition to show what he is made of. If Rohit replaces Laxman it is not to diss Laxman but to groom this youngster.

  • ccrriicc on January 22, 2012, 18:37 GMT

    Wridhiman will be better than Dhoni simply because he will only keep wickets (and may be, if God smiles score a few), not captain the side - is Sehwag a better captain - yes, - that is what we are left with - Gambhir wants rank turners and Mr. Kohli is survining with his teeth - thank Srikkanth for the mess and show him the door - for Indian cricket - for the time being - let us pray.

  • Cricket on January 22, 2012, 16:14 GMT

    I am surprised to see ppl questioning Saha's credentials. Those who follow domestic cricket very well know he is the best wicketkeeper we have in domestic circuit. About his batting credentials, he is ahead of both Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel in average. You can verify the fact in cricinfo stats. Saha averages 41 in list A and first class, where Karthik averages 38 in first class and 31 in list A, Parthiv averages 40 in first class 28 in list A. Parthiv Patel's glove-work is poor, and he also failed to perform with bat in the numerous chances he got recently. Karthik has played useful innings in ODIs, and should get chance ahead of Patel in ODIs. For test matches Saha is more preferred mainly because of his superlative glove-work and temperament.

  • gurmeet on January 22, 2012, 7:17 GMT

    @wally you don't know me much so dont be judgemental.... I have seen dull ranji trophy matches across india and 3 this season... and latest punjab vs karnatka where uday kaul hit 100 n.o. and I hv also seem Saha at the same venue a year ago he was all thumbs down

  • vignesh on January 22, 2012, 4:21 GMT

    I dont know why SAHA was picked up to the australia tour. basically australian grounds are very big, hard hitters can picks up the boundaries. we are not playing in india, we are playing in overseas. in this case we are in need of a strong back hand wicketkeeper.In my point of view SAHA is not a right man, IPL only is not a life for the players.Why dont we give chance to MANVINDER BISLA. He is a very good opening batsman,a good striker and also a nice wicket keeper. why dont BCCI picks up BISLA. He is a capable person to play the overseas especially he can clears the rope by hitting hard in these big grounds.My humble request for BCCI: Please give chance to MANVINDER BISLA.

  • Anand on January 22, 2012, 2:31 GMT

    NOW THE GAME IS WHO IS BETTER IN DEFEATING INDIA. IS THAT AUSTRALIA OR ENGLAND? T20 and Oneday WHITE WASH on the card.. unless if they drop the 3 senior and change the captain. Anything less will be a disastarous tour. Australia will do better then England finally when we compare this tour with india tour to England

  • Dummy4 on January 22, 2012, 0:33 GMT

    @Deepak_Toronto I think that saying Dravid should keep wickets if he wants to play last test of his life is a little harsh, because he hasn't turned down such services in the past. By the way, your batting order line up might make some sense, provided that the seniors (Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman) are all retiring after the test series.

  • Sai on January 21, 2012, 22:56 GMT

    Saha is defintely the next best wicket keeper that we have, after MS Dhoni. After having experimented with Dinesh Karthik and Parthiv Patel (who does not take his game seriously at all), Saha is the one. I don't know much about his batting, but his average of 41 in both First-class and List A tells you that he can bat, and bat well. His keeping skills are also superior to Karthik and Patel, although Karthik has not kept in many matches due to Dhoni's presence. If Saha bats well and scores at least 1 half-century in an innings, he should be groomed as a keeper-batsman and Dhoni must be permanently dropped from the Test side. In fact, MS himself said that he may drop the format in 2013, which is a great choice for himself. He has done nothing with the bat overseas, and his keeping skills aren't first-class either. Saha, grab your chance with both hands and take it!

  • Ash on January 21, 2012, 20:40 GMT

    @Deepak_Toronto. :Looks like you have not watched many tests India playing. your team looks good with RD as keeper which is possible but have you ever seen Sachin opening in tests even when the regular openers were not available (in England tour) You have to rearrange the batting order then

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