WRIDDHIMAN SAHA was already on the move as he followed the trajectory of Ishant Sharma’s devilish outswinger that nicked the outside edge of Sadeera Samarawickrama. Moments later, the diminutive wicket-keeper was in thin air, tilted full stretch to his right to pluck a stunning one-handed catch inches above the ground. It was a case of great anticipation backed by precise footwork and that the ball thudded bang into the middle of his gloves further accentuated the symmetry of the dismissal.
He was not done for the day yet. Six overs later, he repeated his ‘Superman’ act to prise out Suranga Lakmal, bringing back memories of a similar catch he had taken in the first Test against Australia at Pune earlier this year. Saha’s twin acts of skillful acrobatics also snuffed out Sri Lanka’s first real challenge to India’s utter dominance in the Test match and series.
The stubborn fifth-wicket stand between Samarawickrama and Dinesh Chandimal had come on the back of an inspirational one between the Sri Lankan captain and Angelo Mathews. Mathews’ lengthy vigil too had incidentally come to an end in Saha’s gloves as he snaffled a smart catch off R Ashwin’s bowling.
Delhi’s Air Quality Index fluctuated from being ‘Hazardous’ to ‘Very Unhealthy’ for the better part on Monday with conditions far worse than the contentious second day, but till Saha put on a catching masterclass behind the wickets, they perhaps breathed easier than they had on any day of the series. But they went from 317/4—where they looked like making a match of it—to 356/9 at the end of play, trailing by 180 runs and leaving India to call all the shots.
Saha’s three catches also worked as a catalyst to lift the morale of the Indian bowlers in the final hour’s play on Day 3. It’s not like Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami hadn’t bowled with the same spirit and menace in their earlier spells. It’s just that they never got the necessary support from their slip-cordon. It took Saha to finally reward their efforts.
Three catches were dropped at second slip off Sharma and Shami across the two days that the Sri Lankan first innings has waged on. The fact that there were three different fielders guilty of it says a lot about the insecurity, disharmony and confusion that exists in India’s slip-cordon. If Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli let their pacers down on Sunday, it was Rohit Sharma’s turn to do so here as he dropped Mathews off Ishant. Mathews was on 98 and this was the first ball with the second new-ball and the catch like the other two traveled at a perfect height—just above the waist. The musical chairs has extended for more than year now with even the likes of Murali Vijay and Ashwin having tried their hand in the slips. Everyone except Ajinkya Rahane that is, who despite being arguably the safest slip catcher in the team prefers the gully position.
When Mohammad Shami was asked if bowlers had a say in deciding the slip cordon, he was at his diplomatic best. “It’s after a long time that this unit has dropped so many catches…you must need to take it in your stride and move on,” he said. But you wonder if he’ll be as diplomatic if he’s let down again behind the stumps on the first morning at Johannesburg.
At least, they have Saha to save the day though. That’s pretty much sums up Saha. For, saving the day is what he often does with bat in hand too. In a Test career spanning a little over three years, the 33-year-old has shown time and again why he’s one of the first names to be inked into every Test playing XI. And it wasn’t just the pacers who benefited from Saha’s presence.
The spinners too came into their own, as they had little trouble in dismantling Sri Lanka’s lower order that looked completely out of depth. Ashwin was largely underbowled on Monday but threatened in every spell before finding his verve and settling into a lovely rhythm to turn the game.
Saha had spoken about his growing confidence in keeping to Ashwin, he of many variations, before the first Test in Kolkata.
“We have played a lot together, so that helps in our understanding. As a wicket-keeper, the longer you keep (against a bowler), the better you get. It’s easier to keep against him (Ashwin) now than before as he is ahead among the spinners as far as the ‘keeping-difficulty’ is concerned. He has more variations than Jadeja and Kuldeep; so it’s tougher.” And it showed, that is when he wasn’t flying around plucking balls out of thin air off the seamers.