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With Matt Prior having been dropped from the England Test side, and Jonny Bairstow's unconvincing form in Australia, the wicketkeeping position is up for grabs at the start of the season. The role very much needs involves producing sizeable runs these days as well as how good they are behind the stumps. In the Observer, Tim Lewis thinks back to a previous era when there was a battle between the keepers
The Taylor-Knott imbroglio was not a standard, frothy, sporting back-and-forth. It was not: should the England football team line up with Ashley Cole or Leighton Baines at left-back? It meant something. Your allegiance was a revealing comment on who you were and what you stood for. It was an aesthetic judgment, perhaps even metaphysical. A vote for Taylor showed you acknowledged the labours of a fine craftsman, that you could appreciate unshowy elegance, that you weren't distracted by razzle-dazzle. A preference for Knott, meanwhile, screamed that you were an ignorant heathen.
BJ Watling's match behind the stumps at Lord's came to an early end with a knee injury, but he had enjoyed an excellent outing with the gloves on a ground that has caught out many a keeper. Over the last 12 months he has become a central part of New Zealand's Test line up with bat and gloves, but he won't be shouting about it from the rooftops as Andrew Alderson explains in the New Zealand Herald
Watling doesn't publicly trumpet his achievements. Even on the field he could best be observed as buoyant or chirpy rather than extrovert. He appears reticent as far as keepers go, preferring to hear the thud of ball swallowed by gloves than his own voice. Besides, his statistics are doing the talking.
S Ram Mahesh, writing in the Sportstar, explores the phenomenon whereby the preference is for wicketkeepers who can contribute with the bat over those who are better at their primary role. A batting average of 32 for wicketkeepers after 2000 is significantly higher than that of 24 in the preceding 123 years, and it tells a story.
It was long known that the pure glovesman had disappeared, taking with him the mutton-chop whiskers he cultivated on his cheeks and the patchwork gloves into which, to better protect his palms, he slipped steaks of meat. But it's now clear that even the 'keeper-batsman who raised the level of his craft while swinging a subversive bat (Alan Knott, Rod Marsh, Jeff Dujon, Wasim Bari, Syed Kirmani, Ian Healy, Jack Russell, Adam Parore and Mark Boucher, for example) is facing obsolescence.
The reasons for teams to choose the better batsman over the better 'keeper -- indeed sometimes even convince a batsman to take up 'keeping -- aren't difficult to understand. Teams are forever chasing balance. And with the scarcity of genuine all-rounders, it is the wicketkeeper's spot that captains and coaches eye. Apparently it's easier to develop a 'keeper who can get by than a bowler who can take wickets or control runs.