Wriddhiman Saha will replace the struggling Rishabh Pant in the Indian line-up for the first Test against South Africa, captain Virat Kohli announced on Tuesday, calling the Bengal player the “best wicketkeeper” in the world.
The 34-year-old Saha was out of the team for a long time due to injury and came back into the side during the two-Test series in the West Indies in August. However, he did not get to play there and Pant kept wickets in both the games.
“Yes, Saha is fit and fine to go. He is going to start the series for us. His keeping credentials are for everyone to see. He has done well with the bat whenever he has got a chance,” said Kohli on the eve of the first Test.
“It was unfortunate that he was out with an injury. According to me, he is the best keeper in the world. With these conditions he starts for us,” he added.
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Saha last played a Test during the South Africa tour in January 2018 before being hampered by a shoulder injury, followed by a thumb problem.
Pant burst on to the scene in his absence and with centuries in England and Australia, became the team’s number one wicketkeeper in the longest format. However, the 21-year-old has been coping criticism for reckless stroke-making and that may have have been a factor in the team management’s decision to start with Saha. Saha has played 32 Tests, scoring 1164 runs at 30.63.
Kohli said the team management wanted to ease Saha back into the team and that is one of the reasons he did not play in the Caribbean. “We felt like Rishabh, given the opportunities, had done well. Although Saha was always going to start but we felt like just let him ease back into things rather than just forcing him into starting immediately.
“We all felt he has just come back, although he is keeping well, batting well but, it’s fair to give Rishabh a few more opportunities because of what he has done in the past season for us,” Kohli explained. The skipper said Saha was always going to be the first choice in the traditional format.
“…Saha was always the one we would back as a pure keeper in Test cricket. He has done well under pressure situations in the past for us, so it was just about finding the right opportunity and the moment to bring him back in.
“And you need to be wary in a team environment where you understand when to bring a player back and when to give another guy more opportunities” he reasoned. “I felt, for now, it’s the right time for Saha to come back and get into his zone,” said Kohli.
The skipper also made it clear that Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja will be two specialist spinners in the playing eleven with Hanuma Vihari being the third spin option, leaving out Kuldeep Yadav. Jadeja had played both the Tests in the West Indies while Ashwin warmed the bench.
Asked about Ashwin’s current role in the team, Kohli said: “Yes, Ashwin will start. Ashwin and Jadeja both will start here. Look Jaddu we felt was in a better zone as far as performing overseas and what he has done in the past season for the team. “Wherever the conditions provide us to go with two spinners, Ash is always going to be a threat and in-home conditions with his batting and the way he bowls as well he is always going to be starting with Jadeja. That was a no brainer for us,” he added.
(With PTI inputs)