It looks like Wriddhiman Saha, who not until long ago was regarded as the world’s best Test wicketkeeper, will have to wait longer to play another game for India. No, he is not injured again, but has, for the time being, lost his place in the Test XI to the exciting Rishabh Pant. The young southpaw is now the first choice gloveman in red-ball cricket purely for his batting exploits.
Indian cricket team captain Virat Kohli, who is back after missing three Tests in Australia and will be playing for the first time as a proud father, said on the eve of the first Test against England in Chennai that Pant will keep wickets.
“Yes, Rishabh will start. Rishabh will take the gloves tomorrow (Friday),” Kohli said on Thursday while addressing the media on the virtual platform.
“He has had impact performances in Australia recently. He is in a good space. We want him to build on this, along with him improving all aspects of his game, which will happen with more game time and more confidence he gets playing those games. That’s how we look at Rishabh.”
Pant has received the Indian team’s backing right from the time he made his debut for the country. Initially, despite the failures and the tendency to throw away the starts he has had with the bat, not to mention the struggle behind the wickets, Pant has got the full backing of Kohli and chief coach Ravi Shastri.
The thought process then was that when Pant gets going, he could change the course of the game. But consistency was missing from his forte.
In Australia, after showing signs of taking the game away from the opposition with his sweet little innings of 29 in the Melbourne Test which made Shastri speak as the game-changing knock, he played two knocks that will be talked about for a long, long time. The two knocks played defining roles in India creating history – winning back-to-back Test series in Australia, including inflicting a first Test defeat on Australian soil in Brisbane in 32 years.
In fact, Shastri said that had Pant stayed unbeaten in Sydney (Pant made 97 in the second innings), the result of the Test would have been different. And, he proved it in Brisbane with that match-winning 89 not out.
Pant has proved critics wrong after his heroics in Australia. In fact, he shut up all those who questioned his ability behind the wicket and who even questioned his place in the Test XI ahead of Saha. The debate as to whether one has to be a batsman first and then a wicketkeeper later or should one be a specialist wicketkeeper in Tests took a lot of space in newsprint and airtime.
Gone are the days when wicket-keeping is a specialist role, and any runs made by the wicketkeeper were bonus. Now-a-days, they are talked along the same lines as all-rounders.
Kohli continued his support for Pant and even shed light on the youngster’s fitness.
“He has come along very nicely. After IPL, he came to Australia. He was not part of the white-ball formats but he kept working hard on his fitness, on his game and he realised the importance of putting that work and got the results he has achieved, which all of us were happy to see.”
“He is someone whom we have backed quite a lot, and for a good reason. For what he can do with the bat, that brings a lot of value to the team. He will continue to be backed. He is an impact player, someone the opposition will be wary of whenever they play India.”
With this kind of backing, the onus is on Pant to ensure he doesn’t disappoint Kohli, Shastri and Co. The advantage with Pant is that age is on his side. He is only 23. In fact, before embarking on the 2016 ICC Under-19 World Cup in Bangladesh, the then coach Rahul Dravid spoke highly of Pant as a wicketkeeper, even though skipper Ishan Kishan was the designated gloveman.
For no fault of Saha, the non-complaining Bengali continues to be overlooked for Tests only because he is not an attacking batsman like Pant. It is not that Saha cannot bat. He has, on a green top on his own home ground, at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, scored unbeaten knocks of 54 and 58 to earn man of the match in a winning cause against New Zealand in September 2016. Besides, he has three Test centuries and an average of under 30.
Yes, Saha the batsman is not of the mould that Pant is made up of. But, as he has also shown in IPL for Kings XI Punjab, he could bat like Pant if the situation demanded.
Saha is no longer the No.1 choice wicketkeeper, even for Tests in India. His technique behind the stumps, especially to the spinners, is undoubtedly superior to anyone else. Definitely, Saha behind the wickets is much better than Pant, who is still a work-in-progress as far as wicket-keeping goes. We have seen Pant struggle while keeping to the spinners, dropping chances more often than pouching them.
And, age is running out for Saha, who at 36 should only feel unfortunate to be missing out. He faced this when Mahendra Singh Dhoni was playing. Now, after Dhoni, he continues to face this uncertainty with Pant around.