Wriddhiman Saha, the powerplay supernova

He doesn't come across as a good fit in T20s, but he sure does wallop that cricket ball in the first six overs

Alagappan Muthu
Alagappan Muthu
It was a block. At best a push.  Except, a split second later, Kagiso Rabada was sprawled on the ground at deep point and the ball had rolled away to nuzzle with the rope.
Wriddhiman Saha hit 12 fours and two sixes on Tuesday. Nothing captured his charm as well as that almost accidental boundary.
This was only his second match of IPL 2020 and it took a collapse of 10 for 58 to call him up off the bench. But he wasn't really meant to be the solution though. He was collateral. Sunrisers Hyderabad wanted to bulk up the middle order with Kane Williamson and to do that they had to sacrifice their wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow.
Saha probably doesn't care about things like that. He waited virtually the entire length of MS Dhoni's career to get a chance to keep wicket for India in Test cricket. What's a dozen matches in the IPL? The important thing was, he was in.
It isn't widely known but Saha has a strike rate of 137.50 in the first six overs of an IPL game. How good is that? Well, it's better than Chris Gayle (134.97).
ALSO READ: The Cricket Monthly - The long waits of Wriddhiman Saha
Most batsmen, at the start of their innings, take their time to get set. It's the normal thing to do, when you can play every shot in the book and leave commentators gasping. Saha is not like that. He has a limited range so he has no choice but to start fast.
On Tuesday, he faced 10 balls in the powerplay and hit four of them to the fence. One was an inside edge that could easily have bowled him. Another was an uncontrolled pull shot that could have gone anywhere.
Some would see these incidents as warning signs. They'll decide to wait a little while before taking another risk, but Saha kept going.
This is a man whose next game is not guaranteed. Heck, he was playing this one as a makeshift measure.
Saha has stood right on the edge of a gaping precipice for virtually the entire length of his IPL career - that's 122 matches - knowing the slightest slip up could be the end of him. And yet, every time he goes out to bat, he looks for the maximum runs he can take off the ball.
He's a walking, talking supernova, doing whatever it takes to burn as bright as he can, all the while knowing his own fire could just as easily consume him.
What could possibly compel anyone to play like this? Saha's answer was quite matter-of-fact. "It's for the team," he said with a smile on his face and the Man-of-the-Match award in his hands.
And there's the rub. Saha knows he can score more runs batting within himself. Plus, he is a gorgeous player of spin, with every kind of sweep in his locker, not to mention the skill to dance down the pitch to someone of even Ashwin's quality and loft him clean over his head. He could very well bat like everyone else and give himself a chance to feast on the kind of bowling he likes.
But that doesn't help the team. And it doesn't help him get another game. The only thing that does is proving over and over and over again that he can score as quickly as anyone in the game. Of the 47 players who have faced at least 400 balls in the powerplay, only four have a better strike-rate than Saha.
The Capitals coach Ricky Ponting is one of the most intuitive people in cricket. He knew Saha would play this game. He had his team prepared for it. And yet, at the end of it all, at the post-match press conference, he was left marvelling at the wicketkeeper's impact.
"Saha played beautifully today," Ponting said. "He actually surprised me a little bit. I know he can be a dangerous player. But to come back in after a few games out and play like he did was a super knock and probably the difference in the game, to be honest."
Praise doesn't come higher than that.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo