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Last man standing jumps the queue

If a list had been drawn up two weeks ago of domestic batsmen most likely to make their Test debuts,where would Wriddhiman Saha have featured?

Written by Deepak Narayanan | Nagpur | Published:February 7, 2010 10:05 pm

If a list had been drawn up two weeks ago of domestic batsmen most likely to make their Test debuts,where would Wriddhiman Saha have featured? Rephrase that: Who would’ve put Wriddhiman Saha on that list?

The pint-sized Bengal wicketkeeper became the unlikeliest of debutants for India in a while,with the team thinktank left with no choice but to punt the back-up wicketkeeper into the playing XI after VVS Laxman was ruled out with an injured finger and Rohit Sharma,his replacement,twisted his ankle while warming up with a game of ‘rocket ball’.

Sharma hobbled off the pitch with his eyes screwed shut in pain,much of it physical but a large chunk of it caused by the realisation that a golden opportunity had slipped away. Watching him limp away was Saha,his blank expression suggesting that he had just realised how spectacularly he had jumped the queue of Test hopefuls by being at the right place at the right time. Saha’s said to be one of the safest pair of hands behind the stumps in the country,but with Dhoni keeping the big gloves,he spent most of the day patrolling the boundary. As a batsman,he likes to be aggressive,but after having scored a century on Ranji debut two seasons ago,has been found wanting in the consistency stakes. If he can bat with freedom,he could yet make an impact on the game and if he does,the selectors will heave a big sigh of relief.

Limited options

While the decision to pick Saha as a back-up keeper wasn’t a poor one,the balance of the squad was skewed. Once Rohit had been added as back-up to Laxman,the list numbered a healthy 16. Of those,four were fast bowlers,three were spinners,two were keepers and only seven were batsmen — for six slots in the line-up (before Rohit was called in,it was six batsmen for six slots in a squad of 15).

“This question should’ve been raised when the squad was announced,because you don’t expect so many injuries to happen,” Mahendra Singh Dhoni said after the day’s play. Rohit looked heartbroken as he was guided off the field; Saha looked nervous. Around the country,a few others must’ve wondered why Lady Luck hadn’t smiled on them instead. Dinesh Karthik had responded in style to being dropped from the squad after the Bangladesh series,with two scores of 150+ in the Duleep Trophy final. Most of Saturday,he was on the receiving end of a Yusuf Pathan special in Hyderabad when he could so easily have been on the receiving end of a Jacques Kallis special in Nagpur.

Or Delhi’s Virat Kohli who scored 443 runs in just three Ranji games this season,with a century and two fifties,at an average of 93.50. He also scored two centuries in the recent one-day tri-series in Bangladesh and looked the part at the highest level. Suresh Raina,waiting for a Test cap for so long now,had scored a century on his last international appearance,in the tri-series final in Bangladesh while even Parthiv Patel,the extremely former India wicketkeeper,is coming off a stunning run in the Ranji Trophy this year,scoring 727 runs at an average of over 65. Saha scored 318 at a shade under 40.

The day he was picked in the squad for the first Test against South Africa,Saha’s first reaction had been surprise bordering on shock. With South Africa piling on the runs,how he feels when he walks out to bat is what matters most now.