After Bangalore Test, Australia’s DRS success rate has dropped considerably: Wriddhiman Saha

Saha had a rewarding season, as he scored 646 runs including three centuries in 14 Tests, besides accounting for 37 dismissals. Partha Paul Saha had a rewarding season, as he scored 646 runs including three centuries in 14 Tests, besides accounting for 37 dismissals. Partha Paul

A clean-shaven Wriddhiman Saha looked even leaner as he parked his Toyota Fortuner at the Cricket Association of Bengal portico and headed to the gym at the Eden Gardens. A long home season is over but an IPL with Kings XI Punjab beckons. Saha has grown immensely as a cricketer over the last eight-odd months — starting in the Caribbean— during which he scored 646 runs, including three centuries in 14 Tests and accounted for 37 dismissals. In an interview with The Indian Express, Saha spoke about his improvement as a cricketer, India’s unprecedented success and, of course, sledging. Excerpts:

How much has Wriddhiman Saha grown in stature in the dressing-room this season?

Apart from odd changes, it’s the same unit that has been playing for the past two-three seasons. The real team bonding happened after we lost the Galle Test (in 2015). We had a team meeting in the dressing room. That was basically the start of our journey as a group. We changed our approach and it set us on the winning path.

You side-stepped the question…

I never felt left out even at the time when I was a relative newcomer, when I replaced (MS) Dhoni bhai in Australia. You have to talk to others to know if I have grown in stature. From my perspective, our dressing room thrives in collectivity. Different players have different roles to perform, but we as a team share our ups and downs collectively. Everyone, including the reserves and support staff, gets equal importance.

Your friendship with your teammates must have grown stronger over the past few months…

We have always been good friends. During the series we spend our free time together. We take part in PlayStation football games together. I usually play with (Cheteshwar) Pujara, Virat (Kohli), Shikhar (Dhawan) when he was with the team, Hardik Pandya, KL Rahul.

Grapevine has it that you get pretty excited, playing football on PlayStation…

Yeah, it’s very intense. No one likes to lose. It’s a great way to wind down after a hard day’s play on the field.

Do you insist on having Barcelona as your team?

No, we prefer rotation, although I’m always more comfortable with (Lionel) Messi in my team (laughs).

Pujara tried to pull your leg after you bagged the Man of the Match award against New Zealand at Eden Gardens.

It wasn’t after the Test. It was after we finished our second innings and I remained not out in both innings. He jokingly said, ‘Wriddhi ko Kolkata me out karna na mumkin hai (it’s impossible to get Wriddhiman out in Kolkata). That’s the beauty of our team. This is something which is a lot more than winning and losing matches. I have been with the team since Australia and I haven’t witnessed a single case of dressing room bust-up. There’s absolutely no clash of egos in this team.

Going back to Galle, then team director Ravi Shastri allowed every player let off steam after the defeat. How did it help?

It helped us play fearless cricket. Some were getting bogged down under pressure, getting overwhelmed by the situation and sacrificing their natural game in the process. The session helped change the mindset.

You spoke about a change in approach

We decided that we would be targeting some bowlers in a match. Take the attack to a particular bowler right from the outset to upset his rhythm. It’s about taking calculated risks and the approach paid off. We started our winning run after Galle.

Even after your batting success against West Indies and New Zealand there appeared to be an amount of uncertainty as you were ruled out after the second Test against England because of a hamstring injury. Your replacement, Parthiv Patel, did well with the bat. Every now and then people start talking about other keepers like Parthiv or Dinesh Karthik. How do you handle this?

I never consider myself No.1, No.2 or No.10. My job is to go out there and perform, and I try to do that. End of the story. Everybody tries to do his best to reach a certain level. As far as my injury was concerned, I never had any insecurity about it. The team management didn’t allow me to have one. Anil (Kumble) bhai went to the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, when I was doing my rehab and offered assurance.

Did you have any special fitness routine for a six-month long home season?

Our fitness trainer gave us a schedule, which we followed. As I had injured my hamstring, some specific hamstring exercises were given to strengthen the muscles and tendons. At the same time, I was told to be cautious about not overloading it.

The team had a session on the DRS before the first Test against New Zealand. But at times it felt like India didn’t quite have a grip on the technology. As a keeper, you had a important role to play. Did you ever feel iffy?

The brief was clear; I would offer my view along with the bowler and then the captain would take a call. There were times, when I was 100 per cent convinced and so was the bowler, but Virat wasn’t too sure. Then, there were times when Virat was convinced but I, (Ajinkya) Rahane from the first slip and the bowler weren’t less certain. I insisted on taking a referral against Moeen Ali in Vizag despite the fact that he was way down the track against Jayant Yadav. But eventually we went for a review and won the leg before appeal. In some cases I erred also. No team can have a 100 per cent grip on the DRS. There has to be a difference between real time action and slow motion replays. For Australia, their DRS success rate had been close to 80 per cent before the incident in Bangalore. I don’t know if they had been getting any external (dressing room) help. No one noticed. After Bangalore, however, their (DRS) success rate dropped considerably.

You are said to be a keeper who doesn’t keep up a constant flow of chatter from behind the stumps.

If you watch the matches and hear the recordings, you would know I talk the most on the field.

You are one player who keeps his emotions in check on the field. Do you open up in the change room?

I think it’s almost same in the dressing room as well.

Who is your best friend in the team?

Everyone is my best friend. And it’s same for all my team mates. Having a best friend in the team isn’t a good idea. It may lead to groupism. We are a unit.

Was it tough, confidence-wise, batting at No. 7 or 8?

It depends on the individual. It doesn’t affect me. The decision to promote R Ashwin in the batting order was taken in the West Indies. And make no mistake, he is a very good batsman with four Test hundreds under his belt. The team management did it to ensure we have specialist batters up until No. 7. I had no problems with that. Ashwin’s batting success augured very well for the team.

Batting with the tail-enders requires special skills. Do you feel comfortable?

I did it many times for my club and Bengal, batting with the tail. It has served my game well. We no longer shield the tail-enders in the Indian team. They all are capable batters and spend time in the nets to improve their batting. And it’s not just the survival, our tail-enders have the licence to punish the loose balls. The team management has given them confidence to optimise their batting potential.

India-Australia Test series have had a tendency to become acrimonious. But this time things get a little too stretched?

Sledging is a part of Australia’s game. We know that. We were prepared for that. They played well in the first Test and we didn’t play to our potential. If we had won in Pune, things could have been different. For Australia, the lead served as a confidence boost but it’s not that they had an exclusive right over sledging. We also got into a bit of a banter; not only this series, but also when we went Down Under. We did it in Sri Lanka as well.

How did Australia respond to counter sledging?

It upset them. I think our banters made Steve Smith over-attacking in the second innings at Dharamsala.

Who was the leader of the pack in the Indian team?

Everyone. Virat, Rahane, Pujara, Rahul.

What about you? Not even under your breath?

No, I don’t do it. . I just offer encouragement to my team mates; and just a few words here and there.

You appeared to have got involved in the Matthew Wade-Ravindra Jadeja argument at Dharamsala.

I just wanted to know what they had been talking about; exactly what happened.

Do you ever get angry even at home?

No. Maybe, sometimes they (family) get angry with me. But I keep calm (laughs).

You are one Indian batsman who sways away from a bouncer rather than ducking under it. Does it come naturally to you?

It’s natural. I rarely play the pull shot. I allow my body to react to the angles. As because you sometime have variable bounce on Indian pitches, swaying away allows you watch the ball till the end. Sometimes, against an in-swinging bouncer from wide of the crease, I prefer to duck.

For someone who had to play the waiting game for a long time, be it the Bengal Ranji team or the Indian team, how do you look at this upward mobility of your career?

I never felt frustrated. I always trained with the match intensity. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been ready when my time came. Now the focus is to serve the Indian team for long.

During the season, did you get any advice from Kumble about keeping on Indian pitches? He was always a difficult bowler to keep on turners.

I kept to Anil bhai once or twice at the nets. He (and also Virat) always tells me not to change my natural approach to keeping.

How challenging it is to keep to two world-class spinners on turning pitches?

Almost every ball is a challenge, which I really enjoy. Ravichandran Ashwin presents a lot of variety, making things exciting for the keeper. Jadeja is very accurate. Both are outstanding performers. But at the end of the day, a keeper’s job is to collect the ball.

Did Kuldeep Yadav have the mystery element to the keeper as well?

I have kept to many chinaman bowlers during my days at Siliguri (hometown) and also even after coming to Kolkata. Ultimately, it’s about picking it off the hand and following the seam. If you can do that, things will be easier.

Do you exchange signals with the spinners?

Not really. In the Bangalore Test, however, Matt Renshaw had been compulsively stepping out to Jadeja. So we planned about firing one down the leg side. Jadeja did it and I had a stumping.

Umesh Yadav’s progress has been heartening. What do you think he has changed to achieve consistency?

It’s experience. You are always wiser— hitting the right areas —after say 30 Tests rather than 10 . Umesh has now become a complete package. He has everything in his repertoire.

Mohammed Shami unfortunately is facing recurrent injury problems.

It’s not recurrent. Last time, he had injured the other knee. I batted against him at the nets (in Dharamsala). I think he is now fully fit for limited-overs matches. A good IPL season followed by the Champions Trophy (in England) will get him ready for the longer format.

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AB de Villiers or Kedar jadhav might keep wickets for us, says Royal Challengers Bangalore coach Daniel Vettori

AB de Villiers is a part of RCB franchise in the IPL. (Source: Express Photo) AB de Villiers is a part of RCB franchise in the IPL. (Source: Express Photo)

The tenth edition of the Indian Premier League has been hit with a massive number of injuries even before the first ball is bowled. Or well, the first sound of the opening ceremony is made. From Virat Kohli to R Ashwin, the franchises have experienced setbacks with some big guns out of either the start of the league or for its entirety.

Royal Challengers Bangalore suffered a blow when it was learnt that skipper Virat Kohli will be not be available for at least the first two weeks while opener KL Rahul is also out of reckoning for the entire IPL after picking up a shoulder injury during the first Test against Australia in Pune.

With Rahul’s absence from the team, the slot for the wicket-keeper is left wide opened and coach Daniel Vettori has said that either right-hander Kedar Jadhav would be handed over the duties behind the stumps or it would be South Africa’s mainstay AB de Villiers who will do the proceedings in the role for the franchise.

“Owing to a shoulder injury, KL Rahul will be travelling for his treatment and thus will be unavailable to play as a part of the RCB squad this IPL”, he said.

De Villiers has previously kept wickets for the Proteas and has been a fine customer in that position while Jadhav too has had wicket-keeping experience earlier in the Indian Premier League.

While Kohli and Rahul are both nursing injuries, the situation has created another void in the batting line up and that is of the opener. Former Australian all-rounder Shane Watson though has hinted at opening the innings for RCB with Chris Gayle.

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IPL 2017 to not have reserve day for play-offs

IPL is set to start from April 5. (Source: BCCI) IPL is set to start from April 5. (Source: BCCI)

The BCCI on Sunday announced that there will be no reserve days for the play-offs in the upcoming Indian Premier League’s tenth edition that is set to commence from April 10 in Hyderabad.

Defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad will lock horns with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the opening rubber.

The first qualifier is scheduled to be played on May 16 in Mumbai while the second one will take place on May 19 in Bangalore. The eliminator is scheduled for May 17 in Bangalore.

The ultimate clash will be witnessed on May 21 in Hyderabad while a reserve day has been scheduled for this encounter. May 22 is the reserve day for IPL 2017 final.

Defending champions Sunrisers Hyderabad will play under their skipper David Warner with Bangladesh bowling sensation Mustafizur back in the side.

“At this stage, we are expecting him to come. We have not had any official word in any other way. We are expecting him to be here on (April) 7th. Unless, we hear differently from BCB, we will continue to expect him,” Tom Moody said earlier.

Fortunately there are no injuriy concerns for the defending champions and they would be looking to start off their competition on a high note.

“Warner is 100 percent fit and he would soon join the team shortly from Australia, where he is spending quality time with his family,” he said. There also some new faces in thw squad in the form of Rashid Khan and Mohammed Nabi who would be adding to the strength of the SRH franchise.

“We are really excited about both Nabi and Rashid. Both have terrific, not only couple of months but over a year of form. Both add lot of variety to the squad. Rashid is obviously a pretty unique leg-spinner. We welcome both of them and look forward to working with them,” he said.

Royal Challengers Bangalore have suffered some set backs. Skipper Virat Kohli and opener KL Rahul are nursing injuries. Kohli is out of the IPL 10 for two weeks while Rahul has been ruled out from the cash-rich league.

(Inputs from PTI)

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AB de Villiers to lead RCB during Virat Kohli’s unavailability

Virat Kohli is likely to miss the IPL opener against Sunrisers Hyderabad. Virat Kohli is likely to miss the IPL opener against Sunrisers Hyderabad.

AB de Villiers will be leading the Royal Challengers Bangalore unit if their regular captain Virat Kohli fails to recover from his shoulder injury in time for the Indian Premier League 2017 opener against Sunrisers Hyderabad on April 5. De Villiers will arrive in Bangalore on April 2.

RCB coach Daniel Vettori said that Kohli will join the team on April 2 and then check the situation of his shoulder with the medical staff and decide whether to play on or not.

Kohli was injured in the third Test against Australia in Ranchi when he fell awkwardly on his right shoulder while fielding on the fence. He then missed the fourth Test in Dharamsala.

After the series, Kohli said that he does not feel 100 percent fit and will be out for a couple of weeks and can only assess after talking to the physiotherapist.

“The likely scenario is that de Villiers will take over the duties but we’ll answer that once we find out if Virat is out,” Vettori said. “Right now, we don’t have a clear picture on his availability. We’ll know in the next few days.”

Kohli was in phenomenal form in last year’s IPL, scoring 973 runs for Bangalore. He also shared some brilliant stands with De Villiers. Bangalore reached the final of IPL 2016 but lost to Sunrisers Hyderabad.

Both teams will compete in the first match of the new season, the tenth of the Indian Premier League.

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India-Australia series in four frames

Shoulder to shoulder: 1st Test (Pune), Second session, Second day

A gutted Rahul in Pune. A gutted Rahul in Pune.

PROBABLY WE should be surprised that this series didn’t see a single shoulder barge. Not only did we see a shoulder injury keep Murali Vijay out of a Test; Virat Kohli’s shoulders dominated headlines for the first time since he famously carried some 34,000+ international runs around the Wankhede Stadium on them following India’s 2011 World Cup win. And, of course, pointing at your shoulder became a rather nasty form of sledging. But the shoulder that originally got India into trouble in the first Test was the one that helped them get back and dominate the series thereafter. KL Rahul played a wild shot in the first innings at Pune after a classy 64 and fell to the ground clutching his already injured left shoulder. His dismissal set off India’s worst-ever collapse, they lost 7 for 11 to Stephen O’Keefe’s unremarkable trickery.

“I think the shot created the injury, not just to him but even to the team,” is how coach Anil Kumble would describe it. While Rahul was a doubtful starter for the Bangalore Test, it was Vijay who was ruled out due to a sore shoulder. The Karnataka opener never looked back scoring five consecutive half-centuries, including the series-winning runs in Dharamsala, and earned the man-of-the-match award for good measure in India’s series-leveling win. The injured shoulder, in Rahul’s own admission, was a blessing in disguise as it meant that his generally expansive stroke-play was “restricted”, and it meant he was more guarded against the Australian spinners in particular. A batsman who likes to take spinners on from the get-go—and “hit them for sixes” like he put it—Rahul was more content to milk them around and looked the most solid of the Indians on all surfaces, including the diabolical one at Pune. “I know I will have to focus harder with the little problem in my shoulder now. I’m enjoying batting with that problem,” he’d said after his twin fifties in Bangalore.

Sticking with the shoulder theme the series ended inevitably with the Indians handing a cold shoulder to the Aussies who requested to have a few cold ones in their dressing room, at least according to a section of the Australian media anyway.

Screaming skipper: 2nd Test (Bangalore) First session, second day

When the chips were down in Bangalore, Kohli provided the inspiration. AP When the chips were down in Bangalore, Kohli provided the inspiration. AP

It wasn’t a shot or a magic ball or an athletic fielding act that turned the tide for India in Bangalore. It wasn’t even some passionate captain’s talk or some on-field strategy. It was a scream from Virat Kohli. Sometime into second day, after India had collapsed for 189 on the first day, David Warner got out. The Indian captain screamed. And then he screamed a bit more. Not satisfied with his own lung power, he turned to the crowd and asked them to deafen out the Aussies with blood-curling aural mania. The crowd began to respond to their pied piper and went absolutely head-banging crazy as the session and day went on. Every time he felt the crowd was turning quiet, Kohli would rev them up, waving his arms like a ringleader. It was spine-tingling in its origin and soul-crushing in the effect it had on the Aussies.

It was the only time when Steve Smith looked like he was under pressure as a batsman in the series. He hung on bravely but you could feel it was just going to be a matter of time. He was dancing around at the crease, saw Ishant Sharma make faces, heard Kohli jabber on relentlessly, saw Ashwin’s lips from close-quarters, and must have smelt the deodorants of nearly all the Indians who started to harangue him with their sheer presence. Australia still rallied through the motormouth Matt Renshaw and a man who seems to be on a vow of silence Shaun Marsh but it was clear that Indians had found themselves. They looked like they were mugged in Pune, and were almost anonymous on the first day in Bangalore, threatening to hand over the Border-Gavaskar Trophy without a fight but something stirred inside them on that manic second day’s play. Perhaps, it was Kohli’s screams and the intangible effect of a hostile home crowd behind you. Later, some like Steve Waugh would lay silly criticism about the sportsmanship of Kohli’s act but he knew what he was doing. Australia were hurled into a nervy, feverish, passionate, parochial, emotional cauldron. And more importantly, a lacklustre India had found their fangs.

Chest gain: 3rd Test (Ranchi), Second session, fourth day

Saha scored a plucky hundred. AP Saha scored a plucky hundred. AP

Arching his spine, Wriddhiman Saha showed his chest to the ball, devilishly travelling at him. It crashed into his soft tissues of his lower chest. It must have surely pained him. It must have pained most batsmen. But Saha didn’t wince, let alone flinch. If he shut his eyes, for a fleeting moment, he was shaken back into reality by Pat Cummins’ shriek, than an appeal, for a caught behind. Cummins sought a review. Saha nodded reassuringly at his partner, Cheteshwar Pujara. The review certified Saha’s conviction. There was no bat or glove involved.

By that time, India had already squeezed out a slender lead—Saha himself was on 82—but hopes of forcing a victory were still faint. But more than anything else, it embodied the often unassuming courage of the wicket-keeper, the character he showed and the sense of purpose the whole team had demonstrated after losing the first Test and their skipper, Virat Kohli, injured on the first day. The next ball was a scorching yorker, in excess of 145 kmph. But Saha preempted it, and dug it without any fuss, though it must have been exceedingly difficult for him to pick it in the fading light. But here his hunch was vindicated.

The short-ball intimidation resumed in Cummins’s next over. The first three balls were all bouncers, all at his rib cage. Saha wouldn’t bother. He weaved away from the line of the delivery, which hissed past his shoulder. To the second he ducked, the lack of zipping bounces meant it nearly kissed his helmet. The third was shorter, and comfortably left it on its upward climb. The last ball was steered to the third man for a single. Cummins sat on his haunches, expended, after sending down three fiery, rewardless overs.

It was symbolic of Australian bowlers ceding dominance to the Indian batsmen. Saha went on score 31 more runs off 40 balls, completed his third hundred. When he departed, India were 90 runs ahead. And Australia must have realised that there is more spine to this Indian batting line-up than what they had anticipated.

The fifth element: 4th Test (Dharamsala)

Rahane’s decision to include debutant Kuldeep Yadav was vindicated. PTI Rahane’s decision to include debutant Kuldeep Yadav was vindicated. PTI

A turning point, by definition, is that one moment during the course of an event that influences the outcome. Sometimes, though, that moment of truth can come not during but before the event. The wheels of India’s victory in the series decider in Dharamshala were set in motion before the match actually began, when the regular Test skipper allowed his replacement the required space. A day before the match, it became evident that Ajinkya Rahane would stand in for the injured Virat Kohli. But the new captain was torn between playing an extra bowler and, as India had been doing in the previous two matches, trust four to bowl out the opposition. Perhaps the draw in Ranchi, where India’s tired bowlers could find a way past Shaun Marsh and Peter Handscomb in the second innings, made Rahane gravitate towards the former.

Hesitant to make the decision on the own, he approached Kohli and asked what he felt.”I said, this is your game, you have to be comfortable with playing play four or five bowlers,” Kohli would later reveal. “He instantly said five bowlers because he understands the workloads of the guys throughout the whole season and to keep pushing two guys to take wickets for you regularly is unfair when the body is tired.”It was a brave call to play with a batsman less when your most influential batsman is unavailable. Once it was decided that five bowlers would play the choice, Rahane, Kohli and Anil Kumble had a discussion and zeroed in on Kuldeep Yadav as he brought an element of surprise.

The young left-arm unorthodox spinner turned out to be the ace in the hole. “To win Test matches, you need some courage before you start, to take that little bit of risk and play five bowlers. Credit to him that he went in with five bowlers,” Kohli said.Credit to Kohli as well to cede the decision making role to Rahane. An intense leader that Kohli is, it would have been counter-intuitive for him to step aside and not get involved. Initially, in the first session on Day One, it seemed Kohli was itching to get back into the thick of things as he came onto the field carrying water and advice. India looked like it had two captains, and at the same time none. This was the only session where the team appeared listless as they conceded 131/1. Kohli stepped back soon after, and Rahane and his fifth bowler stepped up. As did India.

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