Exclusive Interview: Saha opens up on battle with Pant for keeper's slot & India's win down under

ByAritra Mukherjee
Jan 25, 2021 09:56 AM IST

When the India wicket-keeper finally manage to spare some time for a chat – albeit with the permission from his daughter and wife, it didn’t take him much time to don the imaginary keeping gloves and gather the bouncer-like questions with utmost ease during.

Like any other professional, Wriddhiman Saha too has different priorities when at home. He has to take his little daughter’s permission before an interview. And during one, a little cry here, a gentle dab there sends him a reminder that it’s ‘family time’. Five months without the father can take a toll on anyone. For Anvi - her eight-month-old brother is perhaps too young to even miss his father - it seemed like a lifetime.

India's substitute wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha reaches for the ball during play on day three of the third cricket test between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, Australia.(AP)
India's substitute wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha reaches for the ball during play on day three of the third cricket test between India and Australia at the Sydney Cricket Ground, Sydney, Australia.(AP)

It’s no different for Saha either. Even the shine of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy is pale compared to the smile on his children's faces. But Saha is a generous soul. He can deal with a Pat Cummins bouncer but it’s hard for him to turn down a polite request.

When the India wicket-keeper finally managed to spare some time for a chat – albeit, with the permission from his daughter and wife, it didn’t take him much time to don the imaginary keeping gloves and gather the bouncer-like questions with the utmost ease during an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times.

Here are the excerpts

How was the reception at home?

It was a long gap. We were away from our families for more than five months. It was very tough for everyone. I used to speak to my daughter regularly over phone. She used to gaze at the phone waiting for my call. She used to ask her mother about my return and literally counted down the last few days.

How was the feeling to win 2-1 against Australia, has it sunk in yet?

To beat Australia in Australia and that too after creating a few records is always special. They hadn’t lost in Brisbane for 32 years and we did it with an inexperienced side minus all our main bowlers. We fielded debutants and bowlers who had only a handful of Test matches in their kitty... It was a complete team effort. Everyone who was given an opportunity clicked for the team. Not to forget we were bowled out for 36 in the first Test. We never lost hope, we always kept believing.

What was the plan going into the 5th day in Brisbane?

It’s difficult to say what the coaches were discussing but we as players never for once believed that we will go for a draw. We always went with the mindset of chasing down 328. When Pujara and Gill gave us the platform, the thoughts for a draw went out of the window.

How crucial were Gill, Pant and Pujara’s innings?

Shubman gave us the start, Pujara in the middle was simply outstanding and then Rishabh finished the job. But if Pujara hadn’t held one end up then it wouldn’t have been possible for the other batsmen to go for their shots. When Ajinkya Rahane came in to bat and showed that intent, scoring those crucial 24 runs at better than run-a-ball, that gave us extra confidence.

You spoke about Ajinkya Rahane’s batting, now shed some light on him as a leader

He is always cool, there is no anger in him. He never lets the emotions get the better of him. I’m sure he too gets excited at times but it doesn’t show on his face. He believes in all the players, pushes all of us to play our natural game. For example, he will never stop Rishabh from playing his shots. Obviously, if the game situation demands something different then he will pass on his inputs but in general, he lets the player play his natural game.

Did the racial attack during the Sydney Test unite the team more?

In a way (it did)... I was keeping at that time. The umpires did come to ask Ajinkya whether he wants to continue or not but ultimately the right decision was made. It never looks good when sportspersons leave the ground. So we decided to stay there, the security guards sorted it out. This sort of thing should never happen anywhere.

Tell us about the role of Ravi Shastri and the coaching staff.

The coaches backed us throughout. Even when the chips were down, they were very supportive. They always used to remind us of our potential. It was one of the main reasons why we were able to bounce back so strongly. There was no negativity.

Not even after the 36 all out?

No, not at all. There was no discussion at all.

Coming to your own performance, was it a surprise that you were picked ahead of Pant in the First Test?

See, it has to be the captain and management’s call. I was just told before the match in Adelaide that I’m playing. But what was the reason, whether there was any discussion is certainly unknown to me. My job was to give my best when I was picked and tried to do that but unfortunately, it didn’t click, it happens in professional sport.

Pant a better batsman and you a better keeper - what is your take?

It is the truth and you can’t deny it. Right from childhood, I have treated myself as a keeper first and then a batsman. Can’t really say what is Rishabh’s opinion on this. But when he takes his stance in the middle and bats the way he does, it exerts a different level of confidence. He gets success playing that way. Now once again, it boils down to the team management whether they want to play an extra batsman or a specialist keeper.

But doesn’t it affect your rhythm and confidence?

It probably doesn’t happen in any other country. Teams change keepers with different formats but two keepers rotating in the same format after a couple of games doesn’t happen that often but we are all professional cricketers, we have to keep our faith in the team management. If they believe they need to change even after one game then we’ll have to accept that as players.

Do you and Pant ever discuss this?

Not that much to be honest. I have no issues regarding that and I’m sure Pant doesn’t too. I obviously want him to do well when he’s playing and vice-versa. At the end of the day, both of us want India to win.

Does Pant come up to you for suggestions?

No, there are no particular suggestions that I give him, it’s just a few things here and there while practising. If I feel that we need to keep certain things in mind as keepers for a particular track, I try and pass that on. When we do our keeping drills with our fielding coach, we do discuss how to go about things. Sometimes we also try and work on what went wrong in the previous match and then move forward with our plans for the next match. It helps both of us.

What is the secret behind your athleticism?

It is mostly natural. My family was always into sports. My father, uncle were associated with sports, so it comes naturally. As far as work out is concerned, I do train my body in a way that it can react quickly to any situation.

Thoughts on the upcoming England series?

It’s family time for me now. Will think about how to approach the series once I am back inside the bubble. We will discuss their strengths and analyse the wickets.

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    Aritra Mukherjee, who happens to be a journalist, is in an eternal relationship with food and sleep. He can, however, sacrifice both or at least the latter for his love-affair with cricket. 'He said,' 'he added,' 'he signed off' are some of his favourite phrases. When not juggling between food, sleep and cricket, he wastes time by surfing OTT platforms.

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