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Wriddhiman Saha’s ton in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014 final may help change the course of his career. He scored an unbeaten 115 for Kings XI Punjab against Kolkata Knight Riders. The effort went in vain as KKR won their second IPL title in the end. But the innings from Saha could prove to be the turning point in his career, writes Nishad Pai Vaidya.
Wriddhiman Saha would quietly go about his job on most days. His wicket-keeping is clean and he goes unnoticed behind the stumps; with the bat in hand he normally has a conventional approach. But, on the big day, he delivered for the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) and helped them post a huge total in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014 final. It was an innings that showcased his ability, which seemed to have been hidden in this format. It is unfortunate that he did not end up on the winning side, but this ton could well be the turning point of his career.
Through the season, KXIP have handed Saha the responsibility of batting in the top-order. On many occasions, he has been sent ahead of Glenn Maxwell and David Miller to provide the stability and then get on with it. Early in the IPL, he did get off to starts, but couldn’t convert it. Then came his half-century against Mumbai Indians. He started off slowly, but then attacked to make up for that start. Even then, one felt he had some distance to go to settle into the format.
Perhaps, the innings that changed Saha’s approach was the one against Sunrisers Hyderabad. In the face of a 200-plus total, Saha was sent in at No 3 when Virender Sehwag fell in the first over. Saha then fearlessly took on the bowling and carted a half-century inside 22 deliveries. It wasn’t just that he took on the bowling, but played good cricketing shots along the way. Thus, he did not move outside his zone and backed his game to deliver the results.
It was that approach that helped him come up on top against Shakib Al Hasan, Sunil Narine and Piyush Chawla. He used his feet and lofted them with a straight bat. However, his approach while facing Narine was interesting. He waited on the back-foot, eyeing the ones pitched short and waiting until the last minute to play his shots. That was a vindication of sorts as he successfully took on one of the most successful bowlers in T20 cricket.
Saha has been an understudy to MS Dhoni for a few years. In Test cricket, he has been the No 2 wicketkeeper on overseas tours. He has sound wicket-keeping technique and collects the deliveries at a good height. His batting has been gritty in the two Tests he has played so far. In One-Day Internationals (ODIs), Saha was trumped by Parthiv Patel and Dinesh Karthik. However, this innings would show that he can be a handy batsman in one-day cricket as well.
With the Bangladesh tour coming up, Saha gets a chance to establish himself as the understudy to Dhoni in ODIs. He will get the three games as a wicketkeeper and that will help him make an impression. India have to utilise his potential as they need a sound backup to Dhoni. Saha has shown confidence in the past, but his batting has also come to the party now.
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