VISAKHAPATNAM: India on Tuesday brought Wriddhiman Saha back as wicketkeeper for the first Test against South Africa in a blow to the hopes of rising star Rishabh Pant.
India’s captain Virat Kohli also gave a vote of confidence to Rohit Sharma, naming him opening batsman ahead of the start of the three-match series on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old Saha last played a test more than 18 months ago in South Africa. He gets a new chance because of the poor form of Pant, who had been groomed as the long-term successor to legendary batsman wicketkeeper M.S. Dhoni.
Saha lost his place through injury and Pant initially made the most of his opportunity to showcase his explosive batting talent.
“Saha is fit and fine to go. He is going to start the series for us. His keeping credentials are for everyone to see,” said Kohli, whose side will beat Australia’s record of victory in 10 straight home Test series if they take this series.
“Saha was always the one we would back as a pure keeper in test cricket. He has done well under pressure situations in the past for us, so it was just about finding the right opportunity and the moment to bring him back in.
“He has done well with the bat whenever he has got a chance. It was unfortunate that he was out with an injury. According to me he is the best keeper the world. With these conditions he starts for us.” The 32-year-old Sharma is another veteran looking to stake a new claim in Visakhapatnam after a stop-start career of 27 Test matches.
“Rohit is going to start for sure,” Kohli told reporters, comparing Sharma’s ability to “demolish attacks” to that of Virender Sehwag.
Sharma, India’s limited-overs vice-captain, gets a new opportunity to seal a place as opener after Lokesh Rahul’s form dropped off.
“We have given people opportunities in the past... Rohit’s been in the Test set up for a long time it’s about providing him the opportunity to really find his game and find that template that he wants to in Test cricket,” said Kohli.
“And we understand that if he does that, then our batting order at the top becomes more lethal. It’s difficult to have a player like him not to start every time.” Kohli said two spinners, Ravindra Jadeja and Ravichandran Ashwin, would also be in the team along with two pace bowlers and all-rounder Hanuma Vihari.
South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis is meanwhile looking to a new generation side to get over the nightmare 2015 tour of India when the Proteas lost a four-match series 3-0.
Former captain Hashim Amla quit the game in August while bowler Dale Steyn gave up Tests. “We struggled (in 2015) despite having an experienced line-up and now we have a young looking line up, there is no baggage,” said du Plessis.
“These youngsters are motivated to do well in international cricket and this tour will be no different for them,” the captain added.
“Time to grow new leaders, the next set of pacers the next set of Hashim Amlas.” Du Plessis said the 2015 tour had taught him to handle top class spin bowling while the reverse swing shot can be a “real weapon” in South Asia.
India XI for first Test: Virat Kohli (capt), Ajinkya Rahane (vice-captain), Rohit Sharma, Mayank Agarwal, Cheteshwar Pujara, Hanuma Vihari, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Wriddhiman Saha (wk), Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami.
Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2019