Saha kept wickets for 999 deliveries © AFP
Saha kept wickets for 999 deliveries © AFP

It is difficult being an all-rounder.

Run in, bend your back, hurl one after the other at the batter. If you are in good rhythm, you have to toil for a long spell. The workload is of a greater magnitude if you are a pacer. However, the spinner is at a larger risk of going for runs; he has to be psychologically stronger.

Then gear up for batting. Wear all those heavy guards to protect yourself from the hard-leathered, pain-inflicting, life-threatening ball. Bend your back again, take stance, swing the heavy bat, and exert more pressure on your body.

This can be vice versa, of course.

There is also fielding. After that long spell, you have to prevent the ball from reaching the boundary. Damn, you have to run again. You may even have to dive for it. You may bruise your elbows and then again bowl with it. Sachin Tendulkar can relate to it better (that goddamn man can relate to everything and anything). You may wound your knees and then again use them to charge your run-up. Ashish Nehra keeps getting his knees operated the way snakes shed their skin.

If you are Ravindra Jadeja, you have to jog from one long-on to the other long-on — the entire diameter — after every over. MS Dhoni has made Suresh Raina do the same. Captains do all sorts of things to win.

Or you spend hours in the field and then the captain calls you for a long spell. Bang! Epiphany hits us. Cricket is a funny game, but being an all-rounder is not.

Bowl, field, bowl again, field, and bat (not in the same order). The exhausting process is on an encore if it is a Test.

There are all-rounders who captain the team as well. They take decisions, bowl, field, bowl again, take decisions, take decisions, take decisions, field, bat, take decisions. If you are Dhoni, you are buried under the onus of finishing the match as well. Although Virat Kohli has taken over, we may see Dhoni calling shots in the next edition of IPL. The man with a Midas touch is not going anywhere, folks.

But enough digressing. Dhoni does that to us. Let us get back to digging details for being an all-rounder.

Jadeja was rightly adjudged Man of the Match in the Colombo Test. He took 7 wickets and scored an unbeaten 70. He was awarded ahead of Ravichandran Ashwin, who took as many wickets and scored 54; Cheteshwar Pujara, who compiled a patient 133; Ajinkya Rahane, who accumulated an attractive 132; Kusal Mendis, who gave India a scare with his counterpunching 110; and Dimuth Karunaratne, who unfortunately got out off a ball that took off the surface and ended his magnificent stay at 141.

No complains. Jadeja deserved it, but…

Was Saha's performance of lesser magnitude compared to that of Jadeja? © AFP
Was Saha’s performance of lesser magnitude compared to that of Jadeja? © AFP

Is it not too obvious that either the most wicket-taker or most run-scorer — or who does both — gets the award? Is it a thumb-rule, a norm, a practice?

There, however, have been exceptions. In 2000, Chris Scott and his team of groudsmen were unprecedentedly awarded Man of the Match: they made sure that the rain-marred match was continued and produced a result. Before Scott’s army, Gus Logie had been named Man of the Match for fielding and Bob Willis for captaincy, both in the 1980s.

That said, the man behind the wickets is often forgotten, for he has a thankless job. No, not the umpire. I know they are awesome and often under the radar, but they work for ICC. We are talking about the wicketkeepers. It is funny, the way the men behind the wickets are often on the camera and we overlook their contributions. Epiphany is now falling like an asteroid on us.

This match is one of the many examples. Given that it is the most recent and more importantly fresh in our cricket-overburdened minds, let us walk through it further.

India bowled for 166.3 overs in hot and humid conditions over six sessions (in other words, almost two days) on a wicket that turned the ball square. The barrage of prepositions in the previous sentence explains the exaggeration.

Indeed, it was difficult for the batters. Ashwin and Jadeja are like mad magicians. They talk to the pitch and make the ball turn — or not — as much as they want. They own the cracks, the rough patches, the dust on it. They make the batters surrender. They do not even spare the umpire. If a decision goes wrong, the umpires are forced to take a second thought on their professions. Thank God for technology: there is some respite, finally.

The slip fielder cannot take his eyes off the ball either. The ball may jump — high, low, to his right, to his left — in fraction of a second. The forward short-leg has to do all this while stooping low. Luckily India have masseurs (yes, they have two of them) at their disposal. That sore backs need an adjustments after the end of day’s play.

What does the wicketkeeper do meanwhile?

Of 569 run scored off 999 deliveries, Saha conceded 4 byes, a mere 4 © AFP
Of 569 run scored off 999 deliveries, Saha conceded 4 byes, a mere 4 © AFP

He has to be as watchful as the umpire. However, there is a batter blocking his view. No, wait: if the bowler blocks the umpire, he is given a warning. The poor wicketkeeper does not have this amenity.

A wicketkeeper has to stoop lower than the slip and forward short-leg. Again, there is no object between the batter and forward short-leg, while the slip fielder gets more time to judge the line of the ball.

A wicketkeeper stands behind the stumps, often slightly outside off. He squats, stoops a bit higher when the ball lands, and repositions himself after the ball reaches the batter. Wriddhiman Saha did all this for 999 deliveries.

The umpire strolls to square-leg after every over. The slips and short-legs are not needed every time. They changed positions. But Saha was there, keeping wickets for 999 deliveries.

Numbers are not maintained for umpiring howlers. No one keeps a track of the runs the slip and short-legs cannot stop. These do not reflect in the scorecard at all, but the byes feature in the extras. These byes are the number of runs the wicketkeeper conceded.

And of 569 runs scored off 999 deliveries, Saha conceded only 4 byes, a mere 4. Phew.

Like Ashwin and Jadeja, Saha had scored a half-century as well. When he was not bending, he was arching his back. When he was not flinging himself in the air, he was pouching. When not running, he squatted. He even took a blinder, diving forward to his left, to dismiss Kusal Mendis.

Squat, pouch, arch your back, cheer for your team, squeal maybe, take rippers, pouch, squat, arch your back, pouch, pouch, stump the batter, change ends, squat, help the captain with DRS, pouch, squeal, squat, change ends.

Do that for 999 deliveries, amidst Ashwin and Jadeja turning the ball on a dustbowl and Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav hurling fireballs in hot and humid conditions.

All this for your team, with a mention of your efforts by captain in the post-match conference, without the Man of the Match award. Cricket is a funny game, but being Saha is not…