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Wriddhiman Saha a sound wicketkeeper, capable of playing overseas; Rishabh Pant still evolving: Ajay Ratra - Exclusive

New Delhi, May 25: Former India wicketkeeper Ajay Ratra believes the ICC's decision to ban the use of saliva is going to make things challenging for the bowlers and suggested that the apex cricketing body needs to come up with some plans to compensate the bowlers.

The ICC recently banned the use of saliva for shining the balls, which is an essential part of a bowler's routine, in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic. ICC cricket committee chairman Anil Kumble, however, claimed the recommendation to ban saliva is only an interim measure and "things will go back to normal" once the coronavirus pandemic is brought under control.

Ratra was part of the Indian side which toured the West Indies in 2002-03. The Sourav Ganguly-led side won the Test series 2-0 and lost the ODI series 3-4. Ratra - who played 6 Tests and 12 ODIs - has donned the hat of a coach and cricket expert after retirement. The Haryana cricketer has completed the BCCI certified coaching programme and during the lockdown, he also did an online Cricket Australia coaching course.

MS Dhoni's India comeback seems difficult due to IPL 2020 postponement, but you never know: Ajay Ratra

In an interview with MyKhel, the 38-year-old former cricketer spoke about how he's making use of the free time during the lockdown, the latest ICC decisions in the wake of coronavirus pandemic, and also on Team India's experimentation with wicketkeepers.

Here are the excerpts:

MyKhel: You completed an online coaching course of Cricket Australia during the ongoing Covid-19 lockdown. What was it about and how was the experience?

Ajay Ratra: I have been into the coaching field for the last four-five years ever since I retired from international cricket. I have also completed the BCCI Level B coaching. Unfortunately, I couldn't complete 'Level C' due to the lockdown, hopefully, I'll complete it soon.

The BCCI and CA started a special course back in 2017, so I got myself enrolled in it. During the lockdown, I received a mail from the CA about this online course so, I availed the opportunity to enhance my skills.

It's always good to learn about new things and keep yourselves updated. It allows us to learn how other boards are innovating and techniques they're implementing for the development of their players, and how can we execute them for the improvement of our players.

MK: What are your thoughts on the ICC's recent ban on the use of saliva for shining the ball?

AR: Yes, it going to be quite challenging for the bowlers for it is an integral part of the sport. Apart from the advantages of shining the ball, the bowlers will find it difficult getting used to it because it is something which they have grown up doing. It is a part of their routine I would say, and doing away with it is easier said than done.

But at the same time, if you wish to revive cricket and start the game in the post-covid era then there has to be certain checks and balances. Except for the wicketkeeper, every player on the field uses his/her saliva to shine the ball and that won't be advisable. It gives a direct invitation for the spread of the disease. I am sure, it would have been equally difficult for the ICC to take this step. But the real picture will emerge only when the players will get on the field and start playing.

However, it will be interesting to see how the ICC is going to compensate for the disadvantages of it. I think the bowling side should be provided with some artificial substance to shine the ball which is feasible and safe otherwise it would become tough for the bowlers to use the ball properly. Maybe the new ball could now be made available after 50 overs, but maintaining the shine of the ball is still important. Not just for the pacers, it will be equally challenging a task for the spinners because shining helps them drift it through the air.

MK: The cricket world at the moment stands divided into the idea of organising the matches in front of empty stadiums until things return to normal? Are you in favour of playing behind closed doors?

AR: Of course the crowd plays an important role in setting the tempo of the game. But the situation demands to give a priority to the health and safety of the players as well as the spectators. Also, organising matches in empty stadiums is going to be a tough task because there will be players, team management, ground staff, broadcast crew, media personnel, security persons at the time of the match. Ensuring the safety of these people in the stadium will also be tough.

Yes, the feel will be different for the players but at least it will put things into motion and subside the negativity and frustration which has crept in our lives up to an extent.

MK: What are your thoughts on Indian team management's strategy to using Wriddhiman Saha for Test matches in the sub-continent as a wicketkeeper while Rishabh Pant is included in the Playing XI overseas?

AR: Yes, wicketkeeping in sub-continent conditions isn't easy when the ball starts turning from the second or third day. Wriddhiman Saha has a brilliant pair of hands against the spinners but if you look at his career, he has taken some spectacular catches off fast bowling as well. This means he could be equally good glovesman in the overseas conditions as well.

But I believe that the team management is thinking in terms of making batting stronger overseas because conditions are tougher there.

Rishabh (Pant) has done exceedingly well overseas as a batsman. Having said that, I believe Wriddhiman is also a decent batsman and he can be a part of the playing XI in overseas games.

I feel that the team management should also consider playing a technically more sound wicketkeeper in overseas conditions because he too can change the course of the game with his catches and fielding. And Wriddhiman fits the bill.

As far as Rishabh's case is concerned he's young and has time in his favour, he needs to work on his wicketkeeping skills though. He has certainly evolved as a glovesman from his maiden Test series in England to New Zealand tour earlier this year. But he has to work on his wicketkeeping skills a lot. As far as Wriddhiman's batting is concerned he's not that bad a batsman. He has three Test centuries to his name and has made vital contributions with the bat whenever needed. Therefore, I would say, Saha looks a better option in Test cricket.

MK: There seems a state of confusion in the wicket-keeping department in the limited-overs format as well ever since MS Dhoni took a sabbatical from Team India?

AR: It's good to see that the team management has a few options in wicketkeepers like Saha and Pant. Even KL Rahul has performed with the gloves. He has kept wickets in domestic matches, as well as in the IPL, so he too can perform that role in the shorter formats if the team management deems him fit.

Sanju Samson was also included in the side as a wicketkeeper-batsman in the white-ball cricket. He hasn't been able to perform with the bat in whatever little opportunity he got. I hope he gets fair chances in the future to showcase his talent.

MK: Has it become easier for players to get an entry into the national side nowadays?

AR: Of course it has gotten easier for the players to get into the national side and the credit for the same goes to IPL. The IPL has helped the youngsters rub shoulders with several big national and international players for two-three months every year. IPL is a notch higher than domestic cricket. That has helped the players get the exposure and take their game to the next level, which was never before. Also, we have seen several players getting selected to the national side based on their performances in the IPL. So, yes things have changed for good.

MK: How do you think players, who are doing well in the domestic circuit, keep themselves motivated so that they stay in the national reckoning because the competition in Indian cricket is cut-throat?

AR: When a young uncapped player receives a word of praise from senior India players, he gets a major confidence boost and looks to doing well with more vigour and passion. The only criteria for getting selected to the national side is by performing well. Sometimes you need a fair amount of luck in your favour. Imagine the times of Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, etc. No matter how well a player did in the domestic circuit during that time, he couldn't have replaced such great batsmen.

Take Dhoni's case for example, no matter how well a wicketkeeper performed in the domestic circuit during his time, but it was next to impossible for anyone to replace a great player like him. Sometimes the era in which you play also decides a player's future, but that's not in your control.

MK: Many believe MS Dhoni has already played his last game for India and that his comeback isn't possible now. What are your thoughts, do you agree with them?

AR: You see, Dhoni is a very unpredictable person whom you can't judge what's coming next. But yes there has been a long time since he played competitive cricket. IPL 2020 seemed quite decisive for his international career. The team management would have closely monitored his performance and also how other wicketkeepers would've done during the IPL. Unfortunately, IPL getting postponed indefinitely makes it (Dhoni's comeback) difficult but you never know with Dhoni.

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Story first published: Monday, May 25, 2020, 12:18 [IST]
Other articles published on May 25, 2020
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