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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