Saha provides three timely reminders in two days
Written by Sandip G
Wriddhiman Saha didn’t let his spectacular grab of Theunis de Bruyn on Saturday stew in the mind, because on Sunday, he pulled off two more stunners. First, a one-handed snaffle down the leg-side, De Bruyn again the ashen-faced victim and then a rebound effort off an inside-edge to terminate Faf du Plessis.
Indeed, the more you pore over that catch—flying full-stretch, covering nearly his own height to guzzle a thick edge of de Bryun — the less spectacular it appears. Rather, he distracts you with his judgment, timing of his leap, the finesse of his glove-work, elasticity of his body-in-leap, agility of his hips, and smoothness of his landings. It’s only the roll-overs after the landing—to reduce the impact of the effort—that caters to the theatre.
It’s the classicism of his motion that distills the catch of its spectacularity — if he were inclined to theatre, it would have been one-gloved effort. But Saha has lots of time to think before he leaps — it’s a reason he doesn’t always need to dive and when he dives, he does so with both hands. Time, in the strictest sense, as all he could get will be a fraction of a second to decide his course of action—to judge the line, then whether to pounce or not, whether it’s his or the first-slip’s, whether he should go with one hand or both, when he should start moving. We talk of batsmen with an extra second to judge the length, similar is Saha’s gift, the allowance of time, he makes those split-second decisions faster than most in contemporary cricket. It enables him to dive with both hands. It lets him take last-minute decisions, like when flinging for a leg-side catch or plunging for a rebound. Even after the inside edge had ricocheted off him, he hadn’t lost sight of it. It’s a trained instinct — an end product of fine-tuned natural reflexes and classical fundamentals.
While the snap-of-a-second judgement is natural, how his body obeys the synapses of his brain is more acquired, conforming to the classical tenets of wicket-keeping. When diving for the ball, it’s the head that leads him, not the arms. A steady head, like in most other dispositions of the game, gets you into good positions, enables a better view of the ball’s trajectory, which in turn helps him get more body behind the catch. Then follows his arms and the feet, which doesn’t leave the ground, until that sudden burst of explosivity. When you freeze-frame the exact moment his legs take, you can see his palms are almost parallel to the path of the ball. Then those nimble feet take off and the last sinews of his arms stretch.
Even when he’s air-borne, he’s in optimal control of his body in that he knows the exact degree of his stretch. Keepers, at times in their alacrity, tend to over-stretch and the ball ends up thudding off his webbing or wrists. But Saha knows exactly when the ball would nestle in his gloves. It’s the other nicety that he doesn’t grope, rather the balls look like it’s being magnetically pulled into his clutches, he swoops on it rather than picks it up. It’s perhaps the biggest gift of a keeper— good hands.
The touch-down was smooth, like a veteran pilot navigating a jet—it seems there are no bones in his body, only great charges and flows of energy. There’s no tripping or jarring, just a fluid transformation of weight. He then rolls over, to reduce the impact of the landing. When he’s gathered back on his feet, he was where a second slip would have been. It’s the only part of Saha that’s theatrical. It’s one of dynamic beauty — so much so that it might have its own framed picture stamped in memory. He’d taken an eerily similar catch off Umesh Yadav’s bowling against Australia at the same venue.
It’s in those sporadic bursts of spectacularity that Saha lives on. It’s a grand irony of the sport— the keeper is the most engaged man on the field, yet the most anonymous, remembered only when they either spill a catch or squander a stumping.
In that sense, the catch was a timely reminder of not only his skills but his also value. A particular number illuminates his worth—among contemporary keepers, Saha completes 96.9 percent of his catches against seamers, the best conversion rate among his peers. Rishabh Pant occupies the ninth spot, with a success rate of 91.6 percent. It’s a reason bowlers rave about.
“A lot of people from within the team have spoken about Saha and its no brainer to say he is one of the best going around, I have hardly seen him miss anything from the rough. It just indicates what good set of hands he has got.”
Still, to think that eyebrows were twitched when he was picked ahead of Pant in Vizag and Pune is befuddling. It’s a post Gilchrist-era dilemma (and affliction) — do you want a player with superior glove-work or would you opt for a person who could statistically make a greater all-round contribution to the team?
Not that he’s a slouch with the bat — an average of 30 is healthy enough—and with the kind of batting depth India possesses, Pant can wait. Saha, in turn, offers a safety-web like few other keepers, and these are not bountiful times for anachronistic high-quality wicketkeeper-batsman, not the rapidly flourishing batsman-wicketkeeper clan.
Cricket can’t afford to lose that fine art. Saha filed three reminders in two days.