Rishabh Pant finally got a rap on the knuckles and was omitted from the XI in the Test series against South Africa following inconsistent form across all formats. He could have still retained his place if not for his manner of dismissals where he has thrown his wicket away in situations where the team needed him to stay put at the wicket.
India finally ignored the stylish and entertaining Pant for a boring, but consistent W Saha who has been rated the best keeper in the country by the captain and coach. Although Saha has not set the stage on fire yet thanks to top-order dominance in the series, his sharp and consistent keeping on Indian pitches against two best spinners has helped him retain his place in XI.
So, who’s a better keeper of the two? And how long will Saha be able to keep Pant out of reckoning?
Cricwizz delves into the two keeper’s mindset, skills and temperament to find out who’s a better keeper in Test cricket.
(Please note: Only Test records of the two players have been taken into consideration)
Saha may not be exciting to watch when he’s batting, but he puts a heavy price tag on his wicket. Unless the situation demands, he rarely plays a rash stroke and gifts away his wicket. In the Vizag Test against South Africa, he played for the team and went for quick runs, but lost his wicket in the bargain. He has scored three tons, and two of them have come in tough situations when the chips were down and India were staring at embarrassment.
His 117 against Australia at Ranchi in 2017 and 119-run stand for the 7 wicket with C Pujara helped India draw the match. His 104 against West Indies in 2016 helped India recover from 126 for 5 to 353 all out. Saha has also played quite a few useful cameos lower down the order to help India score valuable late runs. His presence gives India depth in the batting line-up.
For the records, Saha has scored 1185 runs @ 30.38 with 3 tons and 5 fifties in 34 Tests.
Pant was drafted into the Test squad after Saha was out for a year and so due to a shoulder injury. Dinesh Karthik was chosen ahead of him in the 2018 England tour, but he got his chance to make his Test debut in the third Test at Nottingham. In the fifth Test at The Oval, Pant made his maiden Test ton when a loss was certain.
With nothing to lose, he and KL Rahul broke loose and struck a ton each. Pant ended with 114, hitting 15 fours and 4 sixes. He followed it up with two straight scores of 90-plus against West Indies before hitting his second ton (159*) against Australia at Sydney. He became the only Indian keeper to hit a ton in England and Australia.
But despite his batting heroics, his temperament and skills to play five-day cricket was questionable as he was not willing to grind it out when the going got tough and threw away his wicket. He only made merry when the tide was in batting favour.
For the records, Pant has scored 754 runs @ 44.35 with two tons and two fifties in 11 Tests.
In terms of batting, Saha has a better accomplished technique, temperament and skills to last the five-day format as compared to Pant. Saha’s penchant to play the waiting game wins some points ahead of Pant.
Pant is entertaining to watch, but his inconsistencies and his penchant to play too many strokes too early in the game has cost him dearly as he has failed to build on starts and thrown his wicket away. This has made the team management lose confidence in him.
Saha has a safe pair of hands behind the wickets. He keeps well on Indian pitches against two quality spinners in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. He reads the two spinners well while opposition failed to read them. His keeping against pacers is also efficient.
For the records, Saha has 77 catches and 10 stumpings in 33 Tests.
Pant is not a bad keeper, but he is still a work in progress. On some days, he looks invincible behind the stumps and comes off with great catches. But on his poor days, he looks juvenile. He has been guilty to dropping sitters. And that’s the worst part of keeping. You get noticed for your drops more than your sharp and stunning catches. On the other hand, Saha is consistent and is rare to see him miss anything.
Also, Pant’s keeping on spin-friendly tracks of India needs a bit of improvement.
For the records, Pant has 51 catches and 2 stumpings in Tests.
Saha wins the keeping battle too.
Saha presents a better case for himself in terms of consistency, intent and commitment in Test cricket as compared to Pant. On the other hand, a young Pant is still in his learning phase and can develop into a world-class keeper-batsman if he learns from his mistakes and keep on improving. With Saha on the wrong side of 30s, Pant is likely to replace him in future. But unless Pant improves, he will continued to be sidelined. At the moment, Saha wins this battle hands down.