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Being called the best keeper is a big morale boost - Saha

Statistics in cricket are finally evolving but we still have the problem of missing the trees for the forest. Landmarks, milestones, grand numbers are given weightage over in-game numbers. In the SSC Test, for example, it was debated if the one-off Bangladesh Test is indeed a series, and if India are thus on an eight-series winning streak or seven. A double of 250 wickets and 2000 Test runs was manufactured so that we could say R Ashwin is the fastest to another mark.

However, a simple statistic, right there on the scorecard was missed. On that treacherous pitch with balls exploding out of some areas and staying low out of others, Wriddhiman Saha conceded zero byes in the second innings, which lasted 116.5 overs.

Batsmen were beaten 111 times in the whole innings; a further 62 were left alone. Some of them kept low, some of them exploded off a length and turned sharply, especially when Ravindra Jadeja fired them in at around 100kmph, but none went past Saha. A member of India's support staff put on the TV after the SSC Test finished, and saw Quinton de Kock let two sets of four byes go through off the bowling of Keshav Maharaj.

"I had seen Saha keep all day, and now I was watching this," the support staff member said.

A trained wicketkeeper - Saha in this case - will tell you that this assessment of de Kock was perhaps a little harsh. "I enjoy keeping to him [Jadeja] on such wickets," Saha said. "On such wickets if a lot of balls come to the keeper it is good, otherwise we only get 10-12 balls all day coming to us. If you get more balls coming to you, then you are always more focussed, so I enjoyed keeping to Ashwin and Jadeja on this wicket."

Saha was not comparing his and de Kock's work, but it put in some perspective how it can be difficult for wicketkeepers when only a few of the balls misbehave in a day. However, it doesn't take away from the sight what Saha as a keeper was. Even thought he had two sessions when not many balls came to him. Then, towards the end of it, one lobbed well in front of him. It was an offcutter from Hardik Pandya that took the inside edge, hit Kusal Mendis' back thigh pad and ballooned up. Saha dashed forward from his station, dived full length and plucked it inches from the ground. That is a catch he holds dear.

"When he got the inner edge, I thought he will be bowled," Saha said. "The ball came in but hit the pad and lobbed up, the pace was slow so I got more time to get to the ball and I could dive because of that time based on my assumption. It was a good wicket."

It was a big effort, Saha said, because there had been a 191-run partnership and a long day was coming to an end, but he was still alert to this chance. The Pallekele Test will be Saha's 100th first-class game. He was asked to reminisce and talk about the best catches he might have taken. He said the best ones are not on TV so not many will remember, but two of his three favourite grabs from Tests are similar attempts where he had to leave his station: those of AB de Villiers and Matthew Wade, both in Bengaluru Tests, are catches close to his heart; both were meant for the bat-pad fielder, who was not in place.

That he picks these catches as his favourite over some of the crazy thick edges he makes look easy speaks a lot about his faith in his technique and basic wicketkeeping. His catch of Angelo Mathews on what turned out to be the final day of the SSC Test was sensational. The ball from Jadeja had kicked and taken a thick edge from a full-blooded cut. Saha just rose with it and got his hands behind it. He said he got lucky. It stuck. "It could have easily gone over Ajinkya [Rahane, at slip]."

Saha had made the necessary adjustment, though, in the drills before each day. "You are taught right from the childhood to get up with the bounce," Saha said. "But on this track there was more bounce so I changed a bit to get up a fraction earlier. If you have to adjust to the bounce you have to get up a little early and it went well.

"The wicket had some spots where the ball was getting more bounce, almost like a bouncer off spinners as well. I was getting up early for the bounce, but for quicks, the pitch didn't offer as much bounce. Hardik or [Mohammed] Shami, they were using slower balls and cutters, so I was standing up so that edges could carry, but they didn't come apart from that inner edge off Mendis."

Saha's quick hand-eye co-ordination bailed him out on the odd occasion if the ball skid through, which meant he was up too early. There was this one ball that turned down the leg side of a left-hand batsman, and Saha managed to stick his gloves out at the last moment. These are the ones keepers pick up late because they are blind-sighted by the batsmen.

Some in the leadership in the team are of the view that Saha is the best pure wicketkeeper in the world right now. "If team coach and captain are saying this then it is a big morale boost, because it is not an easy job keeping wicket," Saha said. "What I have done is for the team and I haven't thought in terms of wanting to be the best in the world. I am trying to deliver whatever I have learnt since childhood."