The dilemma of wicket-keepers for the Indian team is back after MS Dhoni’s retirement. While Wriddhiman Saha donned the gloves in tests for a while after Dhoni’s retirement, the epiphany is that he is good only for test matches. But frequent injuries, such as the one ahead of the South Africa test series in 2018 pushed back Saha, only to be unavailable for the rest of the year. Rishabh Pant cashed on it, particularly as a batsman and made an immediate impact, by taking 7 catches and scoring 25 runs cumulatively on his test debut.
There was no replacement ready for MS Dhoni in limited-overs until Rishabh Pant came in and tried his hands in keeping wickets in limited-overs games post 2019 World Cup. But as of now, KL Rahul seems to be the first pick as a wicket-keeper.
Let’s compare Saha and Pant on two parameters:
Note: All stats are as of before 26 December 2020.
Wriddhiman Saha, a right-handed batsman, has an impressive batting record in First-Class cricket. He averages 47.38 with 10 hundreds and 32 fifties in 130 innings. While these stats are definitely impressive, when it comes to tests, his stats don’t tell the same story. He averages 29 in 52 innings with 3 hundreds and just 5 fifties. Most of his runs also came in the subcontinent region, the exception being his first test hundred against West Indies, a sedate and slow-paced 104 runs at Gros Islet in 2016.Embed from Getty Images
His batting strike-rate in tests (45.30 runs per 100 balls) has also been an issue for the Indian team. Although he is someone who can save his wicket and bat for long periods, with a strong Indian team’s top-order already in business, the Indian team needs someone who can score quick runs to help the team post a formidable total. Saha does the job but is fairly inconsistent as well as scores slow, keeping strike-rates in 40s.
Since August 2017, he hasn’t made a single 30+ score in 11 tests and 13 innings, his best being 29 runs coming in home series against Sri Lanka in November 2017.
Also, him batting in the lower-middle order (or sometimes even at tail order) in test team makes this job more dull. In Ranji Trophy, representing Bengal, he normally bats either at No.4 or No.5, hence getting more time to settle and play a long innings.
On the other hand, Rishabh Pant is a dashing middle-order batsman, who bats left-handed. He has been someone who can attack bowlers at will. He became the first Indian wicketkeeper to score a test hundred in England as well as in Australia. This was all after Saha’s poor run with the bat started since 2017. In tests, he averages 38.76 in 22 innings with 2 hundreds and 2 fifties at a strike rate of 68.57. He has dominated sessions with his batting many-a-times and that is a testimony to his fearlessness as well as his aggression.Embed from Getty Images
To add to it, the Indian team, which starves for left-handed batsmen, gets one in the team in the form of Pant, thus giving more variety and the option to unsettle rhythm of bowlers with a left-right combination of batsmen at the crease.
In First-Class cricket, Pant has slammed a triple-hundred (308) off just 326 balls at a strike rate of 95. He has 5 hundreds and 8 fifties and averages 56.12 in 36 innings.
So here, in batting, Rishabh Pant gets the edge as someone capable to become mainstay for the Indian team across all formats. Even though, he has been inconsistent with the bat in limited-overs, he’ll come good once he finds his mojo and that can be found only by hard work and commitment to play for the Indian cricket team.
Wriddhiman Saha has been a very capable wicket-keeper, keeping wickets neatly on spin-friendly pitches or rank-turners, as well as, on wickets where the ball swings or bounces more. His dismissal per innings ratio has been good, particularly on rank-turners or spinning pitches in India (1.363) and West Indies (1.571). He played just 1 test in pace-friendly South Africa and took 10 catches. Out of the 92 catches pouched so far in 38 tests, he took 56 of them in India itself! He also made 11 stumpings, out of which 4 of them came in India.Embed from Getty Images
His nifty sideways movement while keeping has been very good, and this has been despite him being in the mid 30s. He is also good in taking acrobatic dives to take catches.
On the other hand, Rishabh Pant has been an effective wicket-keeper in the longest format. But has been notorious for conceding byes, which add to the extra runs for the opposition. He took 11 catches in a test match against Australia, the most by an Indian wicketkeeper took in a single test match.Embed from Getty Images
His reflexes against the pacers are good, but he needs to work on sideways movement a bit, especially while catching in-swingers or out-swingers. Even against spinners, sideways movement is important, so that he’ll be in a better position to keep wickets on spin-friendly pitches or dustbowls. Overall, Pant is a decent wicketkeeper.
So here, Wriddhiman Saha seems to be a better keeper than Rishabh Pant.
But one thing that goes in favour of Pant is the age factor. Saha is already 36 years old, so he just has another 2-3 years of competitive cricket left with him. On the other hand, Pant is just 23 years old, so its high time that investment is more on Pant provided that he remains committed and hard-working towards achieving the standards at the highest level of the game.
Can Pant improve his wicketkeeping skills and become a first-choice wicketkeeper across all formats? Only time will tell.
Feature Image: BCCI | Instagram
I’m a mechanical engineer and I’ve been writing articles related to cricket on Quora since 2017. I’ve got more than 2.5 million views on my answers and have got close to 600 followers. Apart from writing on cricket, I’ve also played club cricket for close to 2 years.