Wriddhiman Saha exemplified he has an astute brain on his shoulders, and is the right man to take forward MS Dhoni’s legacy © AFP
Wriddhiman Saha exemplified he has an astute brain on his shoulders, and is the right man to take forward MS Dhoni’s legacy © AFP

When a surface produces bounce and when there is the odd seam movement, India are known to struggle. Irrespective of the opposition, this has been the story since the beginning of time. The conditions at Darren Sammy International Stadium at Gros Islet in the third Test between India and West Indies had good assistance for pacers. Reading the conditions well, West Indies put India in and dropped Devendra Bishoo in favour of teenage pacer Alzarri Joseph. India, on the other hand, left out Murali Vijay in favour of Rohit Sharma for no evident reason. FULL CRICKET SCORECARD: India vs West Indies 2016, 3rd Test at St Lucia

For a change, West Indies got it right while in testing conditions, India further dug the axe on their foot with baffling team selections, which led to a shuffle in the otherwise settled batting order. At the end of Day One, the saving grace for the dominant visitors was the unbeaten 108-run sixth-wicket stand between Ravichandran Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha.

While the team management zeroed in on Rohit’s ‘talent’ over the resilient (hence, lesser) mortals Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara, they were not confident of the former’s ability of anchoring the ship at No. 3, thus Virat Kohli walked out. Joseph tested Kohli early and made him his first Test wicket. Apart from KL Rahul, none of the Indian batsmen could score freely.

Rohit walked out before lunch at 77 for 3 and was tested in the corridor of uncertainty. Critics were ready with their knives, some sharpening it and like many a times, he again gave them a chance to stab when he poked one outside off-stump to give Alzarri his second wicket. Patience, not extravagance, was not the need of hour. ALSO READ: Saha needs to make opportunities with bat count; 40s not enough

There were no demons on the surface, especially in the second session, which was evident with the way Rahul batted. Ajinkya Rahane’s getting into a shell (36 off 133) was probably not required, but it must be admitted that Rahane batted under more pressure than Rahul. The conditions, however, demanded patience, something Pujara (despite his technique against the incoming delivery) and Vijay have in abundance, and something that Ashwin and Saha went on to display.

Importance of Saha’s knock

Saha walked out at 126 for 5. In other words, he walked out in an MS Dhoni situation. There were bound to be expectations. Saha may not have got the big scores in his short career, but has played a few important knocks when chips were down. His two 40s earlier this series were missed hundreds. But he made up for the lost opportunities with a knock of utmost importance.

In the past, Saha has been a culprit of doing all the hard work and then giving it away with a rash shot. This innings was paced intelligently. When Saha walked out to bat, Ashwin was grinding it out in the middle. The West Indian bowlers were keeping it tight but Saha kept calm.

For the first 9 overs post tea, Saha did not score a run. He was on 1 after 33 balls. He was aware of the fact that the bowlers would get frustrated (and tired) after a while and give him ample scoring opportunities; he played accordingly to the script.

When West Indies took the new ball, he Saha accelerated, for the ball came on quicker to the bat. The short ball, the demon for Indian batsmen was handled well by the Bengal cricketer. He ducked well, played the pull with ease and by the time the day’s play came to an end, he had consumed 122 balls, the most in his career. ALSO READ: Ashwin and Saha’s revival process depicts well panned strategy

On the other hand, Ashwin’s 75 not out from 190 balls is a testament to his No. 1 ICC all-rounder ranking. If he goes on to notch up a hundred, he will end up being the first Indian to register two hundreds and two fifers in a series; and fourth cricketer to do so after Richie Benaud, Tony Greig and Ian Botham. Some list, is it not?

While the spotlight is on Ashwin at the moment, Saha exemplified he has an astute brain on his shoulders, and is the right man to take forward Dhoni’s legacy. Wicketkeeping was never a problem: not only have the likes of Kiran More rated him the best stumper in the country, he has also earned Kohli’s faith.

The task one of seeing out the tough phase is gone. How Saha handles the new ball on Day Two morning and capitalises on this start will help him successfully cross the bridge between a specialist wicketkeeper and a wicketkeeper-batsman.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)