Paul Ford December 3, 2008

Keeping score

Why isn't there a ranking/rating for wicketkeepers from the ICC

I cannot bring myself to discuss the pain and suffering induced by Australia (and New South Wales too) after their dismantling of the Black Caps over the past month. So, in order to divert attention, I’ll focus on a completely unrelated debate.

Why isn't there a ranking/rating for wicketkeepers from the ICC? They've got plenty of other areas covered, including the all-rounders, date-specific ratings, best-ever ratings and for the truly obsessed, even women's ODI rankings.

But poor old wicketkeepers (and pub debaters like me) are left to wonder who is the best, and how they rank against their fellow glovemen. In New Zealand, here at Beige Brigade HQ we enjoy winding-up the South Africans by claiming that our own Baz "The Pirate" McCullum is the best wicketkeeper in the world. In India, the wicketkeeping skills of MSD appear to be overshadowed by at least three other areas of significant impact: captaincy, captivating batting, and the cult of celebrity.

In Australia, the best in the world is always the current Australian wicketkeeper - or that is what Ian Healy will be droning on about in the Channel Nine commentary box anyway. Healy was arguably the best wicketkeeper of all-time so his views are highly relevant, but his sycophantic commentary and cycloptic view of Brad Haddin during the recent Test series Down Under against New Zealand was vomit-inducing.

Strangely, outside the TV commentary box he was much less of a cheerleader and made far more thought-provoking comments such as this one to The Australian: "[Haddin's wicketkeeping] hasn't improved since he got into the Australian team. I would actually say it has declined...We are all about trying to get his standards back to where they were when he was playing with New South Wales."

So, enough about Australians already. Who is actually the best as of right now, today? It's easy to have an argument about it, as nobody reputable appears to be counting and analysing the catches, byes, shelled chances, and stumpings that comprise a Test match day in the sun for a wicketkeeper. I'm sure as hell not going to break out my abacus, but in the absence of anything else more concrete, the current ICC Test rankings of each of the incumbent wicketkeepers seems a reasonable starting point, despite only rating batting performance:

Kamran Akmal, Pakistan #35 Mahendra Singh Dhoni, India #36 Brendon McCullum, New Zealand #39 Mark Boucher, South Africa #43 Brad Haddin, Australia #50 Denesh Ramdin, West Indies #68 Prasanna Jayawardene, Sri Lanka #72 Tim Ambrose, England #77 Mushfiqur Rahim, Bangladesh #79

It is surprising to find Akmal as top dog amongst the wicketkeepers on this “batting only” assessment. His name is not one heard bandied about in our pub arguments about the best keeper on the planet. Perhaps that is a function of visibility, given that Pakistan has not played a Test match for close to a year. He has five Test tons to his name, and aside from world record-holder Boucher, more dismissals than any of the others on the list. Perhaps I am being unfair.

I’d reluctantly have Boucher at number one. It pains me to overcome my personal demons and select him there, having witnessed his humourless reprimanding of the Eden Park ground announcer one day in 2004: “Don’t take the piss out of my players,” he demanded. The announcer had passed some light-hearted comments about the South Africans’ excruciating batting and red hair as they came and went (with some regularity during that match) from the middle. He had a pretty good Test with the gloves that week – 595 runs conceded and nary a bye to be seen. Note too that “c Boucher b Ntini” is the most successful keeper/bowler wicket-taking combination in Test cricket at present (80 scalps).

Taking silver for mine would be Dhoni – let’s assume the 28 byes he conceded at Delhi in October was an aberration and that he will end his career with a hell of a lot more than one Test century to his name. Indeed, his flamboyant captaincy and destructive batsmanship will be tasted first-hand from the grassy embankments around New Zealand in 2009. Presumably he will hate the conditions as much as the rest of the Indian batsmen did last time they were blindsided by our conveniently seaming wickets.

McCullum is in line for the bronze medal - and upper cuts for anyone who dares suggest that he is “the next Adam Gilchrist”. There won’t be another Gilchrist. At Test level, the Kiwi vice-captain still has a lot to prove, as his batting statistics against “proper” Test teams do not yet do justice to his undoubted talents.

The also-rans in order: Akmal the all but invisible achiever; Jayawardene, who must have the toughest gig of anyone looking after Murali and Mendis; Ramdin who is yet to score a Test ton; the two Australians Haddin and Ambrose, who have dined out on the NZ bowling attack to orchestrate Test wins for Australia and England respectively; and the Bangladeshi Tiger, Rahim.

Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here