Judhajit Basu is a senior sub-editor at Cricinfo
PAK v ENG (1)
Marsh Cup (1)
Road Safety (2)
Legends League (2)
County DIV1 (5)
County DIV2 (4)
It's a strange case of being behind the pack for Wriddhiman Saha. He rose to become first-choice wicketkeeper for Bengal only after Deep Dasgupta's exit to the ICL and was mostly going to be behind Brendon McCullum and Tatenda Taibu when it came to doing duty for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL. It didn't help, either, when KKR got Morne van Wyk on board for the second season in South Africa.
Dasgupta is now back in the official fray after his two-year stint in the ICL but Saha's selection today in the India squad for the first Test against South Africa elevates him, if briefly, to the India squad - even though he's once again No. 2, this time behind captain MS Dhoni. "It's yet to sink in," Saha said. "I knew that the team selection was today, but I clearly didn't expect to be picked. I'm elated nonetheless; it's certainly a pleasant surprise."
Saha knows his chances of actually playing in the match are slim but he's looking to make the most of the experience. "It depends on the team management and what decision they take on the day," Saha said. "I'll be heading to Nagpur with a positive frame of mind. If I get the opportunity [to play], I will try and make full use. I am not concerned whether I actually do get a chance, but I will try to learn as much as possible from the seniors around me. It's definitely a great honour and opportunity to share the dressing room with the likes of Dhoni, Sachin [Tendulkar], [VVS] Laxman and Zaheer [Khan]."
Saha began his career in style, becoming the 15th Bengal player to score a hundred on Ranji debut against Hyderabad back in November 2007. But it was during the inaugural IPL that he came to prominence. Handed the opportunity following Dasgupta's exit, Saha finished second, behind Mumbai Indians' Yogesh Takawale, in the wicketkeeping honours list with 10 dismissals (eight catches and two stumpings). He also scored 159 runs in those 12 matches at 31.80, with a strike-rate of 133.61. His brave 59 in a losing cause against Kings XI Punjab in Mohali, seemingly, had announced his arrival.
His performance in the second edition though, was slightly disappointing, managing just 72 runs in eight matches at 24.00, even though his strike-rate improved to 175.60. With van Wyk and McCullum to contend with, he had no dismissals to his credit then.
Saha's domestic form in the 2009-10 Ranji Trophy kept the selectors interested. Though Sourav Ganguly, Laxmi Ratan Shukla and Manoj Tiwary hogged Bengal's batting charts with 50-plus averages, Saha's 318 runs from five matches at 39.75 could not be ignored. His classy 120 against Delhi in Kolkata during the league stage coupled with his 15 dismissals was bound to work in his favour at some point. Making the cut for the Board President's XI to take on the touring Sri Lankans in November last year was as close as he got.
Even though there was a minor blip ahead of his call-up today - a duck for East Zone in the Duleep Trophy quarter-final against Central Zone - his first-class average of 44.80 and the corresponding figure for List A games at 43.90, may have prompted Kris Srikkanth and the others on the selection panel to promote him as back-up to Dhoni. He knows his long-term future with India is in his hands.
"After Sourav Ganguly, several players from Bengal had got a look-in for the Indian team, but they could not cement their places," Saha said. "But I intend to perform well to stay there as long as I can. This is just the beginning, and I have a long way to go. I am keen to work hard and improve in all aspects of the game. The upcoming Test may be just a one-off appearance but I would like to make my place in the team certain. There's definitely scope for improvement in my wicketkeeping skills and I will seek Dhoni's advice in that regard."