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Ananth has tried to rate wicketkeepers in his post below, but there are several problems with his analysis, most of them pointed out by commenters. Wicketkeeping is a fundamentally difficult part of cricket to analyse statistically – the usual records that people talk about are dismissals, but these are highly dependent on the bowlers. If Adam Gilchrist comes out as the best pure keeper, it is because he had a great bowling attack which tried to get edges (as opposed to, say, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis, who often aimed for the pads or stumps).
Nevertheless, we can make a reasonable effort at assessing pure keeping ability by looking at bye rates. To some extent these are also dependent on the bowlers (if they spray the ball down leg a lot then there'll be more byes), but in general the results are much better.
The main stat I'll use here is byes per 600 balls. But this figure needs adjusting to be fair – wicket-keeping is easier in some countries than in others. I applied an adjustment factor by country, based on the overall bye rate of away keepers since World War II. (If you go back much further, you find that bye rates were much higher because keepers stood up to the stumps much more often to fast bowling.)
These were the bye rates per 600 balls for away keepers by country:
New Zealand: 3.02
South Africa: 2.60
Sri Lanka: 4.27 West Indies: 4.48 Zimbabwe: 1.19
I used as a reference point 3.5 byes per 600 balls. So, if a keeper conceded 2 byes in an innings in India, that would be adjusted to 2 * 3.5 / 4.96 = 1.14 byes.
Here are the results. I've given both the raw byes per 600 balls and the adjusted byes per 600 balls. Qualification: 20 Tests as wicket-keeper:
per 600 balls name m balls byes byes adj PR Downton 30 29517 84 1.71 1.52 DJ Richardson 42 43222 143 1.99 2.22 APE Knott 95 101704 422 2.49 2.32 NS Tamhane 21 25659 137 3.20 2.37 IDS Smith 63 63672 277 2.61 2.63 Khaled Mashud 44 37099 152 2.46 2.69 SMH Kirmani 88 91761 506 3.31 2.70 KS More 49 54558 280 3.08 2.80 RW Taylor 57 59085 285 2.89 2.81 RD Jacobs 65 69122 294 2.55 2.83
Paul Downton had the good fortune to play some Tests for England in the 1980s, after the introduction of covered wickets and before the modern trend of picking keeper-batsmen. Khaled Mashud is the most surprising name to see here. This list is not perfect, but at least names like Knott and Taylor are near the top. The full list can be seen here.
It will become easier to assess wicket-keepers after some years of club-based Twenty20 cricket. With free player movement between sides, bowlers will bowl with various keepers over the course of a career. Then we'll be able to look at how many dismissals each keeper got off the same bowlers, and so dismissal counts will be a much more useful way of assessing pure keeping ability.
Note: There will be some errors in the byes tallies, because of keepers going off the field and being replaced. Also, I've given the bye rates to two decimal places, but I haven't checked how significant the second decimal place is.
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