Angelo Mathews had played a cut; a full-blooded one off Ravindra Jadeja. The extra bounce saw the batsman managing a meaty top edge. Wriddhiman Saha was rising with the ball, eyes on it. His hands went high over his shoulder and the ball stuck in the big gloves. Mathews, almost a decade into top-level cricket, looked stunned. Saha had taken a stunner. It was August this year, at the SSC in Colombo. Jadeja and R Ashwin had collected 30 wickets in India’s 3-0 Test series whitewash. And Saha assisted the spin duo – also the pacers – with his world-class ‘keeping. After the series, the India head coach Ravi Shastri compared the Bengal stumper with the great Bob Taylor.
The Indian spinners have benefited immensely from Saha’s presence behind the stumps. The 33-year-old will play his 29th Test from Thursday, on an Eden Gardens pitch that will have some extra bounce. Ashwin and Jadeja will once again ask tricky questions but it’s the offie who will present a sterner test because of his variations.
A fine understanding
But Saha is now completely at ease with Ashwin’s bowling. After playing so many Tests together, the two have worked up a fine understanding. “We have played a lot together. As a wicketkeeper, the longer you keep (against a bowler), the better idea you get. It’s easier to keep against him (Ashwin) now than before,” Saha told reporters on Monday, adding: “Ashwin is ahead among the spinners as far as ‘keeping-difficulty’ is concerned. He has more variations than Jaddu and Kuldeep; so it’s tougher.”
Saha had given a lowdown of his technique in Sri Lanka, especially about adjusting to the bounce. “If you have to adjust to the (extra) bounce, you have to get up a little early… It’s basic. I have been seeing and learning from my childhood that you have to get up with the bounce of the ball. On a track with more bounce, I change a bit to get up a fraction earlier.”
This Indian team throws up spinners of different varieties – an off-spinner, a left-arm spinner and a chinaman bowler in Kuldeep Yadav. Saha has a simple approach – read the hand. “Reading the hand is 50 per cent job done. After that, you have to take into account the bounce of the wicket and the turn. The challenge is to catch every ball,” Saha said on Monday.
At Eden last year, Saha bagged his first Man of the Match award in Tests, contributing immensely with the bat and his ‘keeping, as India beat New Zealand. He returns to his home ground for a Test against Sri Lanka with his reputation hugely enhanced.