Ahead of the test series against South Africa which starts on Wednesday in Visakhapatnam on Wednesday, the biggest selection dilemma facing captain Virat Kohli and team manager Ravi Shastri is who to pick as wicket-keeper. Risbabh Pant is the man in situ, but there have been suggestions in the media that Wriddiham Saha could be given the job instead, because of his superior ability with the gloves, especially on tricky Indian pitches.
The problem comes down, in part, to what the man who keeps wicket for India is meant to do for the side. Do they want somebody who can make a major contribution with the bat? If so, then they will go with Pant who has scored two centuries already in his 11 tests, including a best of 159 not out against Sydney in Australia.
Or do they prefer somebody who is adept behind the stumps? By common consensus, Saha is one of the finest wicket-keepers in the world currently, whilst Pant’s glove work still has room for improvement. Saha, though, is not as strong in the batting department, and can be vulnerable to pace, something South Africa, depending on team selection, have in abundance, with the likes of Kagiso Rabada, Lungu Ngidi, and Vernon Philander all options for Faf du Plessis’ side.
Pant has not helped his cause by a series of low scores in the recent test series in the Caribbean, scoring 24, 7, and 27, in his three innings against the West Indies. Meanwhile, Saha is a decent batsman on slow pitches, as he showed during the recent unofficial test against South Africa A, scoring 60 against many of the same bowlers that he could face in this series.
In part, the decision may come down to what sort of bowling attack India decide to pick for the series. If they opt for three spinners and they expect the ball to turn a lot, then Saha may get the nod, although, at 34 years of age, and thirteen years older than Pant, he can hardly be considered a long-term option.
Pant may well get the nod for the first test but, if he has a poor match, the selectors will be under pressure to give the gloves to Saha for the following two tests.
The selection dilemma illustrates yet again the hole left in the Indian side by the sabbatical and possible retirement, of former captain MS Dhoni. He was somebody who combined both attributes – a fine wicket-keeper and an excellent batsman at the same time. Unfortunately, players like him come along only once in a generation, so, until the next one emerges, India need to decide what is their best available option.