Superman Saha's saga is still soaring

Wriddhiman Saha has lived upto Virat Kohli's assessment of the wicketkeeper being the best in the world. AFP

India’s massive win over South Africa in the second Test of the Freedom Trophy was a classic example of team effort. The batsman shone, the bowlers flourished and the fielding was top-class. Wriddhiman Saha too stood out with an exceptional show behind the stumps, proving Virat Kohli right in the Indian skipper calling him ‘the best 'keeper in the world’.

Making his return to the national team this series following a much-publicised injury and then subsequently being usurped by the young and dynamic Rishabh Pant during the recovery phase, Saha, who is set to turn 35 later this month, dished an age-defying performance to earn plaudits from his fellow bowlers and critics.

Two sensational catches — coincidentally Theunis de Bruyn was the batsman and Umesh Yadav was the bowler on both occasions — showed why Saha is the best in the world.

In South Africa’s first innings, Saha flew to the right to complete a stunning catch just in front of the first slip. In the second innings, the effort was even more incredible. Umesh strayed down the leg-side and de Bruyn flicked it like any batsman would. But Saha, quickly anticipating the line of the ball, flung to his left and completed an exemplary catch.

De Bruyn stood bewildered while the Indian players, initially rushing towards Umesh, quickly switched direction and huddled towards Saha with Kohli even planting a kiss on Saha’s head. The team knew it was more Saha’s wicket rather than Umesh’s. Legend Sunil Gavaskar even compared him to the great Syed Kirmani.

“It boosts the morale of the bowler as you rarely witness such catches in international cricket,” remarked Umesh who owes both those wickets to Saha. “Usually these balls go for four but then when you need to win matches, these are the catches that lifts the spirit of the team. The catch that Wriddhi daa took was unbelievable. He has taken many such catches off my bowling. He knows because he has an idea that I tend to drift towards leg-side at times. The manner in which he kept was brilliant.”

Not just to pacers, Saha was exceptional against spinner R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja too. The main reason why a fit-gain Saha was chosen ahead of Pant for this series was because of superb glove work against spinners on turning Indian tracks. A keeper needs to have great hand-eye coordination and sound anticipation on what the spinner is about to deliver and make subsequent movements within a fraction of a second. All of it was on display in the two Tests, the Bengal stumper barely missed a take.

“Look, time and again a lot of people from within the team has spoken about Saha and its no-brainer to say Saha is one of the best going around,” reckoned Ashwin. “I have hardly seen him miss anything from the rough and today (third day’s play) you saw how he took Rabada’s (missed cover drive), just indicates what good set of hands he has got and Saha’s also got great composure and you can’t really rule him out with bat either. Great character and great keeper to have in the team.”

Saha, an extremely soft-spoken and affable cricketer on and off the field, is blessed with a strong mental interior that has seen him constantly rise against the odds without displaying any external anger. He first had to wait a long time to become a permanent fixture of the Bengal side where Deep Dasgupta was the numero uno choice and then India colours also remained out of bounds as MS Dhoni owned that position for a decade.

His India Test debut happened in 2010 but he found a permanent place only when Dhoni bid adieu to the long format in December 2014. Since then he had built a solid reputation before a hamstring injury suffered during the Cape Town Test in January 2018 and then a badly handled shoulder kept him out of the game for 18 months. While a shoulder surgery at the age of 34 and then a youngster hitting hundreds in England and Australia could have broken anyone’s will, Saha refused to give up. He believed he can come back and he’s done that with a bang, superman like.

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