“The snake can sting from a lot of directions”. The Australians would have been mindful of Virat Kohli’s warnings during the Ranchi Test after letting Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane bring India back into the series at Bengaluru. But surely, things would have looked under control on day three at Ranchi. They had gotten rid of the snake’s head and much of its body. There was that dangerous slow poison called Pujara at the other end but they perhaps thought they will get rid of the snake’s tail and close things off before the slow poison becomes deadly.
Pat Cummins had only played one Test match before this but he is already a “once in a generation” bowler according to many, and we have all led to believe that Josh Hazlewood is the next Glenn McGrath. They should have been a real test for the little man from Siliguri, Wriddhiman Saha. He has scored two Test hundreds but he is yet to win hearts. He was already looking suspicious against the bouncers.
There are a few who still want Parthiv Patel in his place, the feisty Gujarati who loves to get under opponents' skin, the one who could sledge Steve Waugh as a teenager and has no qualms about calling England’s spinners mediocre and their batsmen lucky even when he was playing a Test match after a decade-long break.
Saha, on the other hand, looks sheepish even when he is in control. Perhaps he himself isn’t sure that he belongs at this level. The Australians were trying to ruffle him with a barrage of bouncers punctuated with pleasantries. Hazlewood stopped mid-pitch to deliver a slightly extended speech to make it clear that he wasn’t impressed with Saha, who cut him short with a wave of the hand and told him to just get on with it. The little gesture revealed the steely grit behind that sheepish face. Saha belongs.
The diminutive Saha stepped into the shoes of a giant. He will be compared to a man who isn’t just a cricketer, but a comic book superhero who bats with a Thor hammer and keeps in a Houdini hat. We all know MS Dhoni can ward off enemies with his cricketing sixth sense while looking the other way and waving at kids, what can Saha do?
Saha is just a solid, old-fashioned keeper-batsman. A reliable HMT wristwatch in the generation of smartwatches. Dhoni is all hustle and street smartness behind the stumps. Saha is deft, deliberate and reliable. He isn’t a physical specimen like his predecessor, but he can deliver. He can’t destroy bowling attack with his power, but he can pack a punch with his cover drives and sweeps.
At Ranchi, Saha had a familiar partner at the other end. Pujara and Saha share a similar recipe of workman class dedication to excellence for success. They have played together, and against, each other in first-class cricket for over a decade and have a mutual admiration for each other's games. Just last year, they were part of another match-defining partnership in the Irani Trophy, where Saha scored a double century. You need a perfect partner to script a perfect story that defines and changes your future. In Pujara, Saha found just that as he scripted a hundred that will be remembered for a long time.
The Indian team management has firmly stood behind Saha as India’s replacement for Dhoni at Test level, but somehow the passing of baton didn’t seem complete yet, they were waiting to do it at Dhoni’s home perhaps. In his own words at the press conference at the end of day four, Saha said this was his favourite innings. He is secure about his job now and isn’t hesitant to play his release shots, the sweep and the lofted shot. Saha is here to stay now.
Last year, Harbhajan called Saha the best wicketkeeper in the world while wishing him on his birthday on Twitter and got some slack for jumping the gun when there are other candidates like Quinton De Kock, Sarfaraz Ahmed and Jonny Bairstow. Since the start of West Indies tour last year, Saha has scored 615 runs at an average of 47.30 in 13 tests. Combine this with his superb glove work during this period and Harbhajan doesn’t look too far off in his evaluation of Saha. At the moment, he doesn’t look too far off in his pre-series prediction of an Australian rout either.