When Virat Kohli announced before the first Test that Wriddhiman Saha will be India’s keeper instead of Rishabh Pant, the decision received acceptance and disagreement in equal measure. The disagreement was understandable given that amidst all the criticism about how Rishabh Pant had been reckless and careless, Test cricket was the one format in which he had impressed one and all, especially with his showings with the bat.
After all, an Indian keeper contributing with big hundreds wasn’t something that Indian cricket was accustomed to at all. As a result, it was hard to drop him for a few failures in the Caribbean. However, critics argued that Rishabh Pant’s keeping wasn’t up to the mark and Saha should be preferred as a quality keeper would be required to pouch the chances created by India’s world-class bowling attack, especially the spin-twins, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
This is the same reason that Kohli also underlined while opting for Wriddhiman Saha’s superior keeping standards for the Tests against South Africa. What supported his decision was the fact that top-quality glovesmen are more important in sub-continental conditions. Further, the Indian batting line-up at home is so strong and ruthless that a wicket-keeper who can score big runs isn’t as necessary as in overseas conditions. This is why India were even confident enough to sacrifice a specialist batsman in the form of Hanuma Vihari for Umesh Yadav’s services.
Overall, Saha is a keeper from the old-school era, applying the rules from the coaching manual. That is how classical and clean his keeping is. In fact, Saha is someone who has made an abstract department like keeping watchable. People don’t really romanticize a good catch as much as they do for a cracking cover drive. But Saha has changed that.
The Bengal-keeper is a purist’s dream in that sense. Against the seamers, Saha watches the ball like a hawk and never misjudges the bounce or line of a delivery. This helps him to cover for catches that are wide outside off and also wide outside leg. The perfect example to understand this would be his catches off Theunis de Bruyn in the two innings of the Pune Test. In the first essay, Saha dived across to his left and pouched a stunning catch to dismiss de Bruyn. That catch was almost one that was going straight to first slip but Saha covering ground so easily showed how athletic he is. Remarkable for someone who is 34.
In the second innings, it was exactly the opposite. This time, de Bruyn was strangled down the leg-side by a loose delivery from Umesh Yadav and the wicket was totally down to Saha’s brilliance. Generally, experts say that catches down the leg-side are the most difficult ones as a keeper’s vision is blocked by the batsman but Saha made it look easy too by plucking out a one-handed catch.
These catches come as no surprise given the fact that Saha has been the best keeper in the world for quite some time. Stats back it up too.
Virat Kohli at the start of the series mentioned Wriddaman Saha's wicket keeping credentials are there for everyone to see. In the last three years, his catch efficiency facing pace bowlers is 96.9% – the highest of all keepers to have taken 10+ catches since 2017. #INDvSA pic.twitter.com/imc6sTS79N
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) October 12, 2019
According to Cricviz, Wriddhiman Saha is the world’s best keeper vs Pace with a stupendous 96.9 catch efficiency. If anyone had doubts about who the world’s best keeper was, that stat nullified it.
Also, this is why the widely-held belief that Saha is an even better keeper against spin bowling becomes even more amazing. For the spinners, Saha stays as low as possible until the last moment and almost rises up together with the ball. This is how he managed to dismiss de Bruyn off Ashwin’s bowling in the first Test at Visakhapatnam.
Now after two Tests and two convincing victories for Team India, the Saha fan-base has only grown stronger and it is a testament to his outstanding standards with the gloves. That, in this era, specialist keepers (no slight on Saha’s batting ability) are still deemed worthy enough is not only a testament to the fact that wicket-taking takes precedence when compared to run-scoring but also Saha’s world-class wicket-keeping. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it will be very difficult to displace Saha as India’s first-choice keeper now. He has earned that luxury too.