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Analysis

Necessity the mother of Saha's powerplay brilliance

He recognises that a high-risk approach early on is the only way for him to remain relevant in a rapidly evolving format

Of all batters who've faced at least 500 balls in the first six overs of IPL innings, only ten have scored their runs at above eight an over (133.33 in strike-rate terms). In ninth place on that list, sandwiched incongruously between Chris Gayle and Adam Gilchrist, sits Wriddhiman Saha.
Gayle. Saha. Gilchrist.
Gayle. Saha. Gilchrist.
Among Indian batters, only Prithvi Shaw, Virender Sehwag, Rahul Tripathi and Suryakumar Yadav have scored quicker than Saha in the powerplay.
You might know these facts already - certainly their broad outlines - because they seem to get wheeled out at some point during every IPL season. Here's a piece from 2020, for example, that says much the same thing.
Then, Saha had come into Sunrisers Hyderabad's XI towards the end of the season and smashed 87 off 45 balls in his second game. It hadn't been an easy decision to play him; Sunrisers wanted to bring Kane Williamson into their XI, so they had to leave out Jonny Bairstow and give Saha the keeping gloves.
It is typical of Saha to slip into teams in that manner. You barely notice him, until you do. Which only makes it easier to forget him afterwards.
And so it was that no team bid for Saha on day one of the 2022 auction, and that Gujarat Titans, desperate for a wicketkeeper having seemingly forgotten to sign one, snapped him up late on day two. Soon after that, they also signed Matthew Wade. Neither commanded a massive auction price, but Wade secured the bigger winning bid.
Wade, of course, began the season as Titans' No. 1 keeper.
But as he has done in past IPLs, Saha waited for his chance, got that chance, and grabbed it. Since April 17, when he made his first appearance of the season, only Jos Buttler and Ruturaj Gaikwad have scored more runs in the IPL than Saha's 312. Titans' top order had been their biggest problem area through the initial part of the season; he's slotted in and made it look a lot less problematic.
Why then did he not start the season? Well, because there are - and have always been - sound reasons for teams to use Saha as a back-up rather than first-choice keeper. His powerplay strike rate might only be a few decimal points behind Gayle's, but the powerplay is only three-tenths of a T20 innings. Gayle's genius, at his peak, lay in what he could do after the field restrictions ended.
Saha is a rather more limited kind of player. He's adept at chipping and whipping the ball over fielders on the 30-yard circle, and it's a bonus if it carries beyond the boundary. As soon as there are five fielders outside the 30-yard circle rather than two, his boundary-scoring options are greatly restricted.
Over his IPL career, Saha has a strike rate of 113.93 in the middle overs - a significant drop from his powerplay figure of 134.67. This season has followed the same template: 138.56 in the powerplay, 101.13 in the middle overs.
Saha's game is dictated by these constraints. He cannot play himself in in the belief that he can make it up with a flurry of boundaries later. So he sets off like there's no time to lose, jumping out of his crease against the fast bowlers, lofting the ball over leaping infielders, and targeting leg-side gaps with swipes off his hip and a pick-up shot that's all his own, executed with a whirl of his arms rather than just his wrists.
He bats with little fear of losing his wicket, because his team probably doesn't mind him losing it in the effort to maximise the powerplay. He bats, in short, like a less explosive Sunil Narine.
According to ESPNcricinfo's intent data, Saha has offered an aggressive response to 60 of the 153 balls he's faced in the powerplay this season. That's roughly 39%. Among Indian top-order batters who've scored at least 100 runs in the powerplay, only Yashasvi Jaiswal (52%) and Tripathi (42%) have looked to attack more often in this phase, with Shaw sitting a few decimal points behind Saha.