By Peter Simunovich
Saami Siddiqui - USA U-19 Wicket Keeper
Saami Siddiqui stands at exactly 6ft. and is unusually tall for a wicketkeeper although over the years there have been great 'keepers like India's Farokh Engineer and Australians Don Tallon and Adam Gilchrist.
The 19-year-old computer science student has a long way to go before he can even be in the same discussion as Gilchrist, Engineer and Tallon, but he has already made a step in the right direction by being named in the US Under 19 All American team.
Saami has good hands, is athletic behind the stumps, talks a lot, gives encouragement to bowlers and fielders and lets his captain know any information he has on batsmen or if he sees something during a match that might help his team.
At 155 lbs. he is considered "pretty skinny" by Saqib Saleem, his teammate and Fremont, California, neighbor, who jokingly added: "He can run all day if you ask him."
Saami has the potential to play at the highest level for the United States, but there is another side to the teenager with the safest hands in Under 19 cricket.
Vinay Suri, his teammate in the North West Region team, told DreamCricket.com: "Saami is really, really honest. He is someone you can trust. He is a leader."
Hemant Buch, the chairman of the Western Region, also likes what he sees of Saami off the field. "He is my favorite player. There are many aspects about him on and off the field. He is the best around among the youth. He is very good at school, a complete player and a good role model."
In an era of illegal drugs, steroids and young professional athletes making millions of dollars a year, Saami, according to those around him is above any controversies.
Saami, who moved to the US in 2000 with his family from Islamabad, Pakistan, has played cricket since he can remember and turned to wicketkeeping when he was 15. Cricket is his No. 1 sport, but he has also dabbled in basketball, cross country running, tennis and volleyball.
Saami Siddiqui - USA U-19 Wicket Keeper. Pic Courtesy: NewYorkCricket.com
When he began wearing the gloves, a friend helped hone his skills by throwing a ball off a heavy roller. "I enjoy the position. It keeps me in the game," he told DreamCricket.com. "You are involved in every minute and every ball. I like the fact that the position is demanding."
Asked why he has had success, Saami modestly says: "I just do what I have been told to do." But he also praises Owen Graham, who works with players in the North West region. "Owen has helped me with the fundamentals of the game."
One of Saami's strengths is the ability to stand over the stumps while taking medium fast bowlers. "It makes it more interesting and places pressure on the batsman," he said. "If I notice that a batsman plays out of his crease then I go up and get him out of his comfort zone."
Saami likes watching Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain and 'keeper, because of his leadership qualities and is a fan of New Zealand wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum, who he says "is really athletic, makes athletic catches and is tidy behind the stumps."
For now, he is not getting ahead of himself and is concentrating on his studies and playing for the national Under 19 team.
Saqib, a batsman and leg spinner, says his friend doesn't drop too many catches or have bad days. "He has good information about batsmen and he passes that on to bowlers. He tells me where to bowl," he said.
Vinay, an opening bat, observed that Saami is a hard worker and stays fit. "Behind the stumps he talks a bit, is always encouraging bowlers and fielders and lets the captain know what he sees about batsmen. He is also a pretty good motivator and passes on his knowledge to others."
Abrar Ahmad, the chief selector of the Under 19 team for the North West Region, described Saami as "very sharp behind the stumps. He moves very quickly."
One of his biggest assets, said Ahmad, was his ability to keep over the stumps for a medium fast bowler. "This puts pressure on the batsmen," he said. "I have been watching Saami for four or five years and he has good hand and eye co-ordination. His potential is very good, sometimes he gets excited, but that is understandable for someone his age."
Abrar said Saami was "very supportive to bowlers, but he could do a bit more to (help) bowlers and captains."
Buch has been watching the rise of Saami for the past six or seven years. "He has very good hands, a good bat and well informed on the abilities of batsmen and always talks with his bowlers," he said and added that the 'keeper moves quickly on both sides of his body. "You donâ€™t see too many 'keepers move that quickly, particularly on the left side."
Buch is an admirer of Saami on and off the field and believes he has the potential to play at the highest level.
If Saami stays in focus, healthy and keeps on improving, then one day he maybe in the same conversation as Tallon, Engineer and Gilchrist, the other tall 'keepers.