Wriddhiman Saha’s bumper home season
Ahead of their tour of the West Indies in 2016, India’s management decided to promote R Ashwin and bat him above their wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha. At that point, Saha had played 11 Test matches and scored 367 runs at 21.58, with two fifties and no hundreds.
Since then, Saha’s Test record has undergone a remarkable transformation. In 13 Tests, he has scored 615 runs at an average of 47.30 and a strike rate of 50.36 – it had been 39.84 previously – with two fifties and three hundreds.
At the end of the fourth day’s play in Ranchi, where his third Test hundred helped India take a potentially match-winning 152-run first-innings lead against Australia, Saha said he hadn’t made too many changes to his batting, but had grown a lot more confident and decisive.
“I am backing myself a lot more,” he said. “My go-to shots, the sweep and the shot over the top stepping out. Initially when I came into the Test team, I played those shots hesitantly but now I am 100% confident. The team, the captain, the coaches, everyone is fully behind me and that is good for me.”
India had been under tremendous pressure – 328 for 6 replying to Australia’s 451 – when Saha walked in. He added 199 for the seventh wicket with Cheteshwar Pujara, who went on to play the longest innings by any Indian batsman in terms of ball faced (for matches with available ball data).
“Puji shows a lot of patience in domestic cricket, regularly makes 200s and 300s in domestic cricket,” Saha said. “The way he showed patience here even as wickets were falling at the other end after short partnerships, he was trying to curtail his shots and have as long a partnership as possible.”
Another feature of the partnership was Saha’s handling of the short ball, particularly against the hostile pace of Pat Cummins. He chose to sway rather than duck on most occasions, staying leg-side of the ball and giving himself the option of cutting or steering whenever the opportunity presented itself.
“I practice a lot in the nets,” Saha said. “[I take the help of] the batting coach [Sanjay Bangar], Raghu [India’s throwdown coach], Anil [Kumble] bhai, the fast bowlers – my strength is to let the short ball go, that’s what I work on.”
Saha’s two previous hundreds came against West Indies in St Lucia and Bangladesh in Hyderabad. He rated his Ranchi hundred above both of them.”[This one is] the best of the lot,” he said. “We needed a partnership, and we built it slowly. Puji made a double and I made a hundred, has to be one of the best.”
This was Saha’s second major partnership with Pujara in recent months. In the Irani Cup in January, they added an unbroken 316 for the fifth wicket to steer Rest of India to a target of 379 against the Ranji Trophy champions Gujarat. There, Saha had been in a very different mood, his unbeaten 203 coming off only 272 balls.
“In that game, Puji backed me and encouraged me to play my shots and be positive,” Saha said. “The same approach was there today as well. Even when I defended, I did it in a positive sense and when I played my shots, that was also in a positive sense. He backed me, hence it was possible to have a good partnership.”
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Source: ESPN Crickinfo