Kolkata: India wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha is buoyant over his understanding with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin and hopes it would augur well for the team as it readies to host New Zealand in a three-Test series, with the first match in Kanpur next week.
Saha notched up his maiden ton in the longest format of the game with a patient 104 in the third Test against the West Indies at St. Lucia's picturesque Gross Islet, cobbling up in the process a risk-free 213-run sixth wicket stand with Ashwin (118) that helped India recover from a precarious position to a thumping 237-run win last month.
"Ashwin has been playing for a longer time than me. But yes, in the last three to four series that I have been consistently part of, our understanding has improved. I hope that will help the team's cause," Saha told IANS in an interview.
"I tell him which line to bowl at times, which position is better and the length to bowl to a particular batsman. In the batting department, I can talk about that innings where he told me to wait for the loose ball and take my time. We were doing that. My understanding with Ashwin while keeping to him has helped better our running between the wickets," said the Bengal boy.
According to Saha, Ashwin is the hardest to keep wickets to among the trio that also included Amit Mishra and Ravindra Jadeja.
"On turning tracks, he gets sharp turn and bounce since he is tall. Jadeja is not always a huge turner of the ball, and Amit is slow with not as much bounce. So, yes, Ashwin is the toughest."
Of the pacers, it is Umesh Yadav who hits Saha's gloves the hardest. "Consistently, Umesh is the fastest. It varies from spell to spell though. At times, due to the bounce he generates, Ishant is quite fast."
Saha's maiden Test hundred came after 22 innings. His two fifties in Sri Lanka came last year, before which the diminutive right-hander failed to convert the starts. In the first two Tests in the West Indies, he had scores of 40 and 47.
Today, when a keeper is judged not just by his performance behind the stumps but also in front, is Saha walking that extra yard on his batting?
"I do concentrate on my batting though I haven't had many big scores. I like to contribute to the team's cause and the hundred against West Indies surely boosted my morale. I know batting is important, but first I consider myself as a wicketkeeper as I am in the team because of that."
Coach Anil Kumble and captain Virat Kohli, he says, made the job easier for him. "They always told me a hundred is just around the corner. The entire team was so happy when I reached the milestone.
"Anil bhai knows how to bond with players. He always tells us how to approach a match. He doesn't try to change much. He believes we all should play our natural game."
An Indian coach, Saha believes, is always better than a foreign counterpart. "Someone like Anil bhai has seen us play from a very young age. That is not possible for a foreign coach. Indian coaches get to see us in the IPL and the domestic circuit. So it is definitely better to have an Indian coach than a foreign coach."
Saha did not get much time to assess the New Zealand team when the Kiwis were in South Africa, but he feels the battle won't be easy though India will have home advantage.
"We need also to play well on turning pitches. They will probably play two spinners and one all-rounder that could add up to three spinners. We will hold the advantage as the hosts. They will need to acclimatise."
Saha signed off by picking England's in-form wicketkeeper batsman Jonny Bairstow and Sri Lanka's Dinesh Chandimal as the two best stumpers.