30th December 2014 was a black day for Dhoni devotees as the Indian skipper abruptly retired from the longer format of the game, hours after the end of 3rd Test Down Under at MCG. The cricketing world was in a complete shock after hearing this announcement. This immediately led to a void in India’s Test XI.
From 4th test against Aussies, Wriddhiman Saha has been the man behind the stumps in tests. Since then, he has performed well as a good wicket-keeper. But, as a batsman he hasn’t been able to match his famed predecessor.
Importance of MSD:
Dhoni has repeatedly been referred to as the savior of the team in the modern era of Indian cricket. Often, he has taken the team single-handedly to victory from impossible situations. Most notably, he scored a match winning knock of 224 in a single innings against Australia when the team was in dire straits. Keeping such knocks in mind, the team is desperately looking for a reliable batsman-keeper in the Test side.
The top contenders for this job are KL Rahul, W.Saha, and Naman Ojha. Sanju Samson, who plays for Kerala in the Ranji trophy has a poor first-class average. Though being a regular keeper, his inconsistency in IPL and first-class career prevents him from being one of the top contenders. With big shoes to fill, we cannot randomly choose anyone from the above three. India is set to play some crucial Test series against the West Indies, New Zealand and England. Let us take a glance at the First class and International Test stats of the three contenders.
1) As a batsman:
Consistency plays a major role in Test cricket as much as in ODIs and T20s. Test cricket gives the player the leeway to score steadily and not bother about the strike rate. This is the most essential point to be considered in the case of a wicketkeeper too.
The Indian team require a keeper-batsman and not just a keeper. With no fixed line-up emerging yet, he should preferably be able to bat in various positions and under pressure. Someone like Dhoni who could take the team past the finishing line from seemingly impossible situations is what the selection committee should look. Rahane, already a member of the squad and seems comfortable batting at a number of positions would have been the ideal choice, but unfortunately he is not a keeper
Historically and considering a multitude of factors, the Indian team needs a keeper whose batting abilities are also vital. Hence, looking at his average is important. In this case, KL Rahul dominates in first-class matches, whereas Ojha has the upper hand at away grounds. Saha has the best average at home grounds but it should be noted that the other two haven’t played matches at home.
KL Rahul is a good stroke-player and can play the big shots, something on view in IPL 9. Contrastingly, Ojha and Saha are defensive batsmen and focus only on ground strokes. KL Rahul can play as an opener and even as a No.4 or No.6 batsman in tests. But Ojha and Saha have always played at No.5 or No.6
KL Rahul has scored two international and ten first-class centuries in just 45 matches while Ojha has scored 20 first-class centuries and 49 first-class fifties in 125 matches. In contrast, Saha has brought up just 9 first-class tons and 27 first-class fifties and 2 international fifties in 92 matches. If KL Rahul continues at the same pace, he could even surpass Ojha’s overall hundreds and fifties.
2) As a wicket-keeper:
In the total dismissals’ scenario, Saha leads in home and away grounds while Ojha has been splendid in First class matches having the most number of dismissals. But, total dismissals might not provide a clear picture, since each one of them might have played different number of first class and international matches.
Considering average dismissals, Ojha leads in first class and away matches but Saha is the undisputed leader in highest dismissals at home grounds. KL Rahul and Saha are equally competent at away grounds.
The most important requirement of a wicket-keeper is his agility and accuracy to take the catches. He is required to react quickly, snap up catches and whip off the bails in flash. Dhoni with his quick reflexes and agility has set a very high benchmark especially with stumpings. This pressurizes batsmen into staying well in and limits their options. The future wicket-keeper would be required to emulate that.
Age of a wicket-keeper is also a significant factor to be considered. Both the experienced keepers, Ojha and Saha are almost 32. In contrast, the relatively inexperienced KL Rahul is just 24. Five home test series are scheduled for the Men in blue against West Indies, Kiwis, England, Bangladesh and Aussies in the next 7 months. These might be litmus tests for the wicket-keepers who will be selected in these tours.
So far, Saha has been good behind the stumps. But, his reflexes and agilities might gradually wear down in the coming years. Post a few years in the role, it is likely age would catch up with him.The same applies to Ojha. Saha or Ojha could be selected in the team for a maximum of two years in the future. From there on, KL Rahul should don the big gloves and stand behind the stumps. Clearly, the future long term replacement for MS Dhoni would be KL Rahul.
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