In four days’ time, India will play their first-ever day-night Test at Eden Gardens. Wriddhiman Saha, arguably the world’s best wicketkeeper, is one of the early birds in the team, with regards to playing pink-ball cricket. Back in June 2016, Saha played in the CAB Super League final, which was a pink-ball, day-night, multi-day game. Before the start of the Test series against Bangladesh, Saha, who returned to the playing XI during the home series against South Africa after an elongated injury layoff, spoke with The Indian Express and touched upon various issues, including the pink-ball Test. Excerpts:
How difficult was the phase when you were away from the Indian team?
For a player, every phase is difficult, whether you are playing or not playing. When you are playing, there’s always the pressure to perform. In my case, Rishabh (Pant) was playing (after I got injured). Maybe, after the two Tests in the West Indies, the team management thought about giving me a chance (against South Africa). Probably the team has the belief, which is a reason why I returned to the playing XI. And I tried to contribute. As far as batting was concerned, I basically didn’t get the opportunity to play long innings. Because most of the time, when I went to bat, declaration was on. As for ‘keeping, I tried to give my best.
For a 35-year-old, how tough is it to handle an elongated injury layoff?
Of course when you are out of the side, it’s always difficult to return to limelight. But I always stayed positive during my rehab. I never thought about what would happen next. I just concentrated on my rehab and training.
Did you require any psychological help during the layoff period?
No. In fact, I never felt like I was left out. When I returned to domestic cricket and played the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy for Bengal earlier this year, it felt like I straightaway got into the groove.
You returned to the Test squad for the WI tour but didn’t get a game, as Pant played. Did you have any conversation with the team management in that regard?
It wasn’t required. Rishabh was playing. He performed well in Australia. So it was quite natural that he would play. The West Indies was India’s first Test assignment after the Australia tour. And Rishabh was an automatic choice.
You took that in a positive way?
Of course. I played a few matches for India A during that period, which helped.
SupermanSaha became a Twitter hashtag after you pulled off the Theunis de Bruyn stunner in the second innings at Pune. But your leg-side gathering has always been top-drawer. Even at times when you are unsighted by the batsman, you go and grab the ball. What’s the secret of your leg-side gathering?
A lot of things come into play. It starts with judging the line and the pace of the ball. Following the ball till the last minute. Soft hands. But behind everything, there’s hard work. It basically comes down to practice. It doesn’t happen directly in the match. There’s a mental aspect to this as well; the desire that every ball will come to me.
Practice is a key reason for sure. But apparently, your ‘keeping, especially the way you boss the leg side’, feels natural.
If it were natural, then I would have collected every ball that came to me. But I couldn’t do that.
Does a brilliant catch or an excellent stumping create a feel-good, carry-over effect?
The focus instantly shifts to the next ball. When a ball is bowled and the whole process is over, then it’s dead and buried. It’s about the next ball then, doesn’t matter whether you have taken a good catch or dropped one.
Coming to the pink-ball Test, how challenging it could be for a ‘keeper?
Under lights the ball will move and all our fast bowlers clock 140kph or more. When I played the CAB Super League final, picking the pink ball under lights was a tad difficult after it got old. You can’t eliminate the problem in two days’ practice (an early finish of the first Test against Bangladesh at Indore has allowed the team a couple of extra days of training). You have to adapt during the game.
For a ‘keeper, is it advisable to use glasses in pink-ball cricket, something similar to what Ian Healy used to wear for white-ball, day-night matches? Back then, a single white ball was used in the ODIs.
Yes, those glasses helped a brighter vision. But it’s about the habit. If you don’t have a habit of wearing that, you would feel uncomfortable. The challenge will be to adapt (to the situation). I trust my eyes. You won’t see me wearing sunglasses very often in day games also.
Do you see any role for the spinners in the day-night Test, given that the pink-ball has an extra coat of lacquer, and also an extra coat of grass on the pitch?
So far, the majority of the day-night Tests have been played with the Kookaburra ball. SG pink will be used for this game. So we will have an idea during our first training session; how are the bowlers feeling. The pitch, too, will play a part.
Sourav Ganguly says day-night Test cricket is the way forward, given the dwindling stadium attendance in the long-form. What’s your take on this?
This is the idea behind the day-night Test. It will create a different feel and Kolkata being a cricket crazy city, I expect very good turnout. The effort is praiseworthy. Let’s see how it pans out.
India boast of one of the finest pace attacks in the world. From a ‘keeper’s point of view, who creates the stiffest challenge?
(Jasprit) Bumrah and (Mohammed) Shami, for apart from pace, their deliveries wobble more, compared to Ishant (Sharma) or Umesh (Yadav). And this happens in all conditions.
Umesh wasn’t part of the original Test squad against South Africa. Came in as Bumrah’s replacement and hit the ground running. Did you expect that?
Yes, because he was training hard. He is not someone who shies away from training if he is not in the team. Also, he is very consistent these days, which again is down to training and hard work. There’s a reason why our reserve bench is so strong; every player is always match ready.