On Wednesday, after a wait of over six years, India’s Wriddhiman Saha finally stepped out of the shadows of his predecessor MS Dhoni and went a step ahead to become the first Indian wicket-keeper to score a century outside the subcontinent in 14 years.
The five-hour marathon effort from Saha epitomised grit and determination in challenging circumstances. But it’s not the first time an Indian wicket-keeper batsman has displayed such traits under pressure. From MS Dhoni to Dinesh Karthik – many have tread this path in the past.
Here, we look at three instances when an Indian stumper bit the bullet, hung around and fought it out for his team.
MS DHONI – 76* vs England at Lord’s, 2007
Arguably one of Dhoni’s finest efforts in Tests, this innings paved the way for India’s historic series win in England in the summer of 2007.
With a healthy lead of 97 runs at the start of their second innings, the English batsmen – led from the front by Kevin Pietersen – piled on the runs and set India a challenging fourth innings target of 380.
But familiar woes awaited the Indian batsmen, as they departed one after the other without bothering the scorers much. Even a 59-run stand between Sourav Ganguly and Dinesh Karthik couldn’t assure India a safe passage.
It was then that Dhoni went about playing a rarely seen before innings, filled with nudging, poking and blocking interspersed with aggressive running between the wickets; India’s talismanic keeper hung around for 203 minutes.
Stuck in a pressure cooker situation with a tail that hadn’t been known to wag often, Dhoni churned out a judicious innings, uncharacteristic of his usually belligerent style. It was the day the long-haired, impulsive boy metamorphosed into a responsible man.
His unbeaten effort, which included shielding the number 10 and 11 batsmen, ensured that India pulled off an unlikely draw with some help from the rain gods.
DINESH KARTHIK – 93 vs Pakistan at Eden Gardens (Kolkata), 2005
It’s never easy to play arch-rivals Pakistan considering all the hype that surrounds Indo-Pak games; it’s certainly not easy to face Pakistan at India’s answer to the Colosseum, where crowd tensions run so high that once an India-Pakistan game had to be played in an empty stadium in the wake of a Sachin Tendulkar run-out.
Young Dinesh Karthik, in only his seventh Test, didn’t just play. He went on to show the world why he was so highly rated in Indian cricket after his exploits in the under-19 sphere.
The match was neck and neck heading into the third innings when India, with a slender lead of 14 runs, went out to bat a second time. But at 156-4, effectively five wickets down with no certainty of VVS Laxman’s availability to bat, it was left to two from the south to bail India out.
At one end was Rahul Dravid – at the peak of his powers having already scored a commanding 110 in the first innings of the match. His partner Karthik failed to evoke a similar level of confidence from the fans, but that would soon change. Batting with the champion for nearly 50 overs, and putting on a 165-run stand, Karthik bade the naysayers goodbye.
Karthik’s 203-minute long effort included 13 boundaries, and a sense of dominance over the bowling of Shahid Afridi and Mohammad Sami. With a large chunk of his runs coming through cuts, late cuts and drives through the off-side, he displayed superiority and control. The impressiveness wasn’t just restricted to his stroke play, as he was good in his front foot defence as well.
When he did eventually get dismissed, bowled by Danish Kaneria, he had already taken India to safety and halfway towards a famous win in Kolkata.
Receiving applause from the Eden crowd on your way to the pavilion isn’t an easy achievement, but DK managed it very early on in his career.
AJAY RATRA – 115* vs West Indies at Antigua Recreation Ground (St. John’s, Antigua), 2002
Fate was a tad unfair to Ratra when, after becoming the youngest Indian wicket-keeper to score a century overseas, he was dropped from the national side. But that takes away nothing from his gritty unbeaten 115 against West Indies in what eventually turned out to be a high-scoring match at Antigua.
Ratra came out to bat at 257-6 with India in a rather precarious position in the first innings. Pedro Collins and Mervyn Dillon had already rattled the middle-order in spite of twin half centuries from Rahul Dravid and Wasim Jaffer.
With Laxman at the other end, Ratra battled it out for over six hours, at a painstakingly slow rate. Playing mostly down the ground and behind square on the off-side, Ratra helped in restoring a semblance of surety in the Indian line-up.
What made his innings special was that he had scored just 16 runs in the previous four innings and was on the verge of being dropped ahead of the Antigua Test. The safety net the century brought him though was short-lived as he was overlooked for the tour to England.
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