Wicket keepers are receiving a raw deal these days. Sadly, they are not valued by sides obsessed with achieving the so-called ‘balance’ in the squad.
Imagine Australia journeying to India for a hard four-Test series without a second specialist wicket-keeper batsman. What would the side do if its lone ’keeper Matthew Wade pulled a muscle on the morning of a Test?
When this question was put to Australia’s former wicket-keeper batsman Steve Rixon, he was initially stumped for an answer. Then, he gathered himself and replied: “Well, perhaps, I might have to step in!”
Then, Rixon, in a bid to retrieve the situation, said Brad Haddin could be summoned to India at a short notice — although it is implausible that Haddin could travel to India within a day if there was a pressing need.
Rixon added Phil Hughes, a left-handed top-order batsman, could don the big gloves.
The 58-year-old Rixon, a ’keeper known for his excellent reflexes and fast hands, would surely have figured in more than 13 Tests for Australia in the ’70s and ’80s had his career not coincided with that of the legendary Rodney Marsh.
Earlier in the season, England too walked on thin ice when it travelled to India with just one specialist wicket-keeper batsman in Matthew Prior.
Eoin Morgan, a left-handed middle-order batsman, was slated to keep wickets in the event of an emergency.
Now, if Australia and England, pioneering nations in the art of wicket-keeping, send out the wrong signals vis a vis ’keepers, then their move will only have a domino effect.
The two countries, which have given exceptional wicket-keeper batsmen such as Lesley Ames, Allan Knott, Bob Taylor, Wally Grout, Rodney Marsh, Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist to the cricketing world, can now be accused of neglecting men of this ilk. Genuine ’keepers are increasing being marginalised.
If a Taylor arrived on the big stage and thrived, it was because he had spent a number of years as an understudy to the mercurial Knott.
If Gilchrist emerged as someone who redefined the term ‘wicket-keeper batsman’ and changed the dynamics of the role, the years as the second ’keeper to Healy had played a huge role in his development.
Misplaced selection policies
Due to misplaced selection policies, the next generation of wicket-keepers is being threatened.
In the recent IPL auction, four of the best contemporary wicket-keeper batsmen, Prasanna Jayawardene, Prior, Wade and Denesh Ramdin went unsold.
A moment of inspiration with the big gloves can alter the course of a game and lift the morale of the team.
A ’keeper is the unofficial captain of the team; he is close to the action and his advice is valued.
Importantly, this is a specialist job.
Ironically, the Australian selectors have recognised the importance of this role by appointing Rixon as the coach of the spinners in the national side; he also guides the team in fielding.
“I enjoyed keeping wickets to the spinners in my time, interacted with them and now pass on the knowledge in aspects like use of the crease to the young spinners,” he said.
Paradoxically, the Australian selectors have not picked a second ’keeper for the Indian challenge.