It is often said that a wicket-keeper has done his job brilliantly if no one talks about them by the end of a day’s play. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Well that’s Wicketkeeping for you, the most gruesome and tiring job on a cricket field, which is recognized only when it’s not done well.
There are approximately 90 overs i.e 540 balls bowled in a single day of a test match, and along with every ball being bowled there’s the wicketkeeper squatting 540 times, running to the wickets (in case of faster bowlers), collecting the ball and then throwing it back to the bowler. The wicket-keeper does it every time irrespective of the batsman playing a shot, bad weather conditions and everything which happens on a cricket field. You have to be mentally ready to catch everything that comes your way, and dropping is considered a crime for the wicket keepers as they are the only fielder with the advantage of wearing a gloves,
Imagine maintaining that accuracy along with the compulsory squatting. If you have to be a wicketkeeper you have to have extremely high levels of physical fitness. Otherwise if you are not physically fit, there’s every chance of a lack of concentration or effort which can lead to byes, or god forbid a dropped catch or missed stumpings. Imagine giving 5 extra runs through byes on the bowling of someone like Shoaib Akhtar who runs for almost 50 metres to approach the pitch every time and bowls over 150 kmph+ . No one wants to be that, except Kamran Akmal maybe.
However, the art of wicketkeeping isn’t limited to ensuring no byes or missed chances. Keeping wickets to faster bowlers is a totally different ball game as compared to keeping wickets to slower bowlers who turn the ball. For the fast bowlers, the wicketkeeper has to move swiftly along with the swing and line of the ball and has to be aware of its trajectory every moment. Otherwise the chances of conceding byes and burning in the fury of the bowler’s wrath is really high. One has to be light on their feet, and even dive in case of a wide or prominent edge. If the surface is slow and uneven, the keepers have to adapt almost with every ball and bowler. Therefore, while keeping wickets to fast bowlers, the keeper needs to be agile, nimble and ready to dive if it’s needed.
On the other hand, it’s a totally different keeping technique for the spinners as you stand just behind the stumps. Here it becomes really hard to judge the final trajectory of the ball, as one is blinded by the batsman’s movements most number of times. The batsmen also try to move along with the ball’s trajectory so that they can hit it. Therefore, it becomes really crucial to read the spin on the ball from the bowler’s hands. A keeper who has the ability to read the ball from the bowler’s hands is always at a benefit as compared to someone who reads the trajectory of the ball after pitching. So, it’s not very surprising that someone like MS Dhoni who is brilliant at keeping wickets to spinners, also plays the spinners so well while batting.
While keeping wickets to spinners, stumping also becomes a possible mode of dismissal. So, the keepers have to ride the bounce present in the ball’s trajectory. Along with that, they have to keep their head straight, hands still, and finally use soft hands to catch the ball in their gloves. It’s very hard to repeat it ball after ball, and if there’s an edge on a spinner’s bowling it becomes even harder to catch the ball if the deflection angle is high. Above all this, if a batsman steps out of the pitch you also have to be mindful enough to stump him so you need fast hands along with the right technique to gather the ball. The combination of fast and soft hands becomes really important here. That’s why many cricket analysts call Dhoni’s split second stumpings extraordinary, because not only he gathers the ball cleanly but stumps the batsman in a blink, and by doing this has created dismissals out of thin air. Many called his wicket-keeping technique (leave his batting technique aside for a moment) unconventional or sometimes even poor (most famously, by Syed Kirmani, the keeper of the 1983 world cup winning side). But one should also notice how still he keeps his head and body, and how he only uses his hands to gather the ball and break the stumps. If one goes according to the wicketkeeping textbooks, keepers need to slow their momentum while keeping to spinners, so that they can collect the ball cleanly by moving their hands slightly backwards. However, Dhoni doesn’t do that. He lets the ball come to him, keeps his hands still and just behind the stumps, and removes the bails in a flash. This gives him an extra fraction of a second and his sheer magic behind the stump is a story of those fraction of seconds. Dhoni has a record for not only the fastest stumping on a cricket field, but he had the most number of stumpings ever (195 stumings across formats), in spite of the fact that other wicket-keeping giants like Kumar Sangakkara have played more matches than him (who has 138 stumpings across formats).
This difference of keeping techniques for fast and spin bowling, also means that if someone like a Dhoni is one of best keepers for spinners ever in the history of this game, it won’t mean that they would be as good while keeping for the faster bowlers; which is quite evident in the number of byes Dhoni has conceded to faster bowlers over the years, along with seldomly dropped catches. Therefore when there comes a wicketkeeper like Wriddhiman Saha who is a brilliant keeper to both spinners and faster bowlers, you have a player who can win you test matches only by his keeping skills. India’s new successful test record has a lot to owe to him for being a nearly perfect wicket-keeper who hardly misses anything behind the stumps.
The modern times have seen the wicket-keepers playing some new roles as well – they have now become the most important player involved in DRS review (Decision Review System, which allows the player to question on-field decisions made by the umpires). They are best positioned to know about a lbw decision as they have been following the ball’s trajectory and know where it will finally end. Thus, in the modern era it has become really important to have a wicketkeeper who is not only good behind the stumps, but also has a brilliant game sense, along with being a good batsman.
Wicketkeeping is a multi-dimensional job. No wonder, someone like Kumar Sangakara averages way more with the bat (a staggering 66.91), when he is not keeping wickets for Sri Lanka. But when he has the keeper’s job to do as well, his average falls drastically to 39.55. This is enough of an evidence that even the best of batsmen in world cricket are affected by the sheer amount of workload a keeper had. In spite of all this, there’s hardly a time when wicket-keepers are specially mentioned in a post match ceremony for the brilliant job that they do. Instead, the highlights only show the keepers when they have dropped something. The amount of physical and mental strength needed to do this job, takes a toll on the keepers. There’s hardly any time in cricket when a wicketkeeper was a man of the match. In fact, there have been numerous occasions when a proper wicketkeeper has been dropped for a sub-standard keeper who can bat better, even in test cricket. It’s time that selectors, team managements and game presenters recognise the importance of wicket keepers and give them the recognition and respect that they deserve. Otherwise wait for a day, when a four-byes will cost a match, and as always, the wicketkeeper will again be shoved in the front to suffer that blame.
All the data presentations and statistics have been provided by Saravana Chilamakuri and the article has been written by Gaurav Nandan Tripathi
This post was originally posted with the same title on –https://www.facebook.com/CricketBeyondEntertainment/ .