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Whether I am underrated is for others to decide: Wriddhiman Saha

Seemingly forever quarantined, Saha reflects on lack of playing time and adequate recognition, as well as refusal to contest Bengal assembly polls

Wriddhiman Saha has been going through probably the longest quarantine in cricket. It started ahead of the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year and is unlikely to end before mid-September, with the final Test between England and India scheduled to finish on September 14. The stumper contracted Covid during this year’s IPL, which kept him in isolation even after the tournament was suspended. He is out of the woods now and will reach Mumbai on May 24 to join the Indian team.

Saha wouldn’t have been on board the flight to England for the upcoming ICC World Test Championship (WTC) final, followed by a five-Test series against the hosts, if he had accepted the offer to contest in the Bengal Assembly polls. The 36-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman opened his heart in an interview with The Indian Express. Excerpts:

Q: You have been serving arguably the longest quarantine in cricket. Also, you didn’t have regular game time, either in Tests or the IPL. How difficult it has been to make the mental adjustment?

A: I think adjustments become easier for those who don’t think much about what would be happening next. Even when there was no quarantine, I basically used to stay put in my room. I am not someone to go out frequently. That’s why I didn’t find it too difficult to handle. In quarantine, keeping in touch with family and friends, having long conversations with them, helps. Then you have Netflix and Hotstar, where you bump into comedy movies. I am a comedy movie buff and I fall for everything from that genre. If you ask me to pick one, I will choose Andaz Apna Apna.

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Q: Still, do you think that having the support of a mental health expert during quarantine helps?

A: From my experience, especially when I had contracted coronavirus, I can tell you that it’s better not to keep an eye on what’s happening outside. You shouldn’t allow any negative thoughts affect you. Suppose you are watching TV and constantly getting bad news, you might try to find a similarity with your health condition; if you, too, are having breathing trouble and stuff like that. That can hurt you mentally. So, it’s better to take your mind off all the negatives. It’s imperative to always stay happy.

Q: Not having regular game time must be frustrating?

A: Firstly, when Dhoni bhai (MS Dhoni) was there, I wasn’t a regular in the team. I virtually didn’t play at all. From 2014 end to 2018, I played. After I suffered an injury, Dinesh Karthik, Parthiv Patel and Rishabh Pant have played (for India). Rishabh has managed to cement his place through his potential. He has grabbed the opportunity. Now I am (again) waiting for my turn.

Q: For a player of your ability, it must be frustrating?

A: Every professional player faces such ups and downs. Injuries can happen anytime. Take the example of Bhuvi (Bhuvneshwar Kumar)… He was playing for India in all formats before he got injured. Now injury has affected his game time. All part of the game.

Q: Have you been told by the team management that you would basically be a back-up for Pant for the England tour?

A: I never had any such discussion (with the team management). It didn’t happen when Dhoni bhai was there, not after his departure and not now also.

Q: Do think that your exploits are underrated or is it a case that you have failed to build on your good performances? You scored a game-turning hundred in a Test in the West Indies. Your unbeaten half-centuries in both innings on a difficult Eden Gardens pitch against New Zealand took India to a Test victory. And yet, there’s a perception that batting remains Saha’s weakness.

A: Whether I am underrated, it’s for others to decide. When I go out to bat, if you see some of my recent Test innings excluding the ones in Adelaide, in most cases I played for the declaration. So what was I supposed to do, play for myself or the team? And while trying to contribute to the team’s cause, I got out in a few innings. Maybe, a different player, more inclined to play for himself, would have avoided criticism…

Q: Wriddhiman Saha isn’t flamboyant, he doesn’t assert himself and prefers to play second fiddle. Did this perception go against you in any way?

A: I don’t think that way. I always believe that scoring a vital 25 or 30 is more important than a century or a half-century if that contributes more to the team’s cause. I am happy that way. My boyhood coach (Jayanta Bhowmik) always told me that at times you must play for yourself. Not that I am oblivious to it. But when you are playing a team sport and faced with any kind of situation, the team always gets precedence. That’s what I believe.

Q: Your career speaks volumes for your perseverance and tenacity. But there’s a school of thought that you aren’t comfortable in leadership roles. Like you have been offered the Bengal Ranji team captaincy a few times, but you declined.

A: I never did captaincy at any level right from school cricket. I have always seen myself as a team-man. I have seen players asserting themselves after being appointed captain, or trying to eke out something by dint of their position. I am not that type from my childhood. To me, every player should be in the team by virtue of his performance. It should never be that 10 players are being picked on merit and another one is coming through recommendation. Maybe, that was the reason why I turned down the Bengal captaincy. I have seen such things when someone else was the captain. I never wanted to be in that (position). The best XI should always take the field. It could be that I don’t like someone but if he is important for the team, then he must play. Not that I will back someone who is a friend. I want everybody to think that way.

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Q: After playing 38 Tests, scoring more than 1,200 runs and accounting for 103 dismissals, do you think you would have got better recognition if you were good at presenting/asserting your case?

A: I don’t look back. That’s not in my nature.

Q: Okay, going ahead, will you change?

A: I am always open to change. Maybe, I also try to make that happen. But you need the opportunity to deliver for you at the right time. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t happen. When it doesn’t happen, people criticise you. When things fall in place, people praise you. But naysayers always outnumber supporters.

Q: Do you get angry and frustrated off the field?

A: Have you ever seen me losing my cool on the field? No, even off the field, I don’t get angry and/or frustrated. I keep these feelings at arm’s length. Maybe, that’s a negative point…

Q: How will you describe your personality?

A: Someone who is casual, and also an introvert, who takes pleasure in other people’s joy and happiness.

Q: You were approached to contest in the Bengal Assembly elections. Why did you turn down the offer?

A: I don’t like politics and that’s from childhood. I don’t know the P of politics. So how can I be a candidate in the elections? And even if I had contested, how I would have made the entire political arrangements; connecting with people etc.

Q: Does it mean that you find it difficult to get out of your comfort zone?

A: I like to live the life of a common man. I am not comfortable if two security personnel are accompanying me when I am going out.

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