ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 / Features

Age of the batsman-wicketkeeper

Wicketkeepers have been far more prolific with the bat since 2000, and Matthew Wade has shown early signs of conforming to that trend

S Rajesh

April 27, 2012

Comments: 35 | Text size: A | A

Matthew Wade acknowledges his first Test century, West Indies v Australia, 3rd Test, Roseau, 2nd day, April 24, 2012
Matthew Wade's century in Roseau was the 170th by a wicketkeeper in Tests, of which 79 have been scored since 2000 © AFP

There was a time when the duty of the wicketkeeper was to keep wicket, and perhaps occasionally contribute with the bat, but that was more than a couple of decades ago. Now, the rules of the game have changed, and Australia's latest incumbent to the role, Matthew Wade, has learnt the new requirements of his job description pretty quickly, becoming only the sixth wicketkeeper from the country to score a Test century. He achieved it in only his third Test, which is pretty impressive considering that one of his predecessors, Wally Grout, played 51 Tests and only managed a highest of 74 (though there's no doubting his quality behind the stumps).

Grout's was an age when a wicketkeeper's skills behind the stumps was almost all that counted - his batting ability was only a bonus. Not any longer, though. Andy Flower was perhaps the first wicketkeeper who could command his place in any team as a batsman alone, though Adam Gilchrist took most of the credit for that with his astonishingly free-spirited batting at No. 7 in a strong Australian side. That redefined the role of a wicketkeeper, and that's perhaps one of the biggest changes seen in Test cricket over the last few decades.

The table below lists decade-wise averages of wicketkeepers since 1950, and it's clear that since 2000 the numbers have changed dramatically: from an average that used to hover in the mid-20s, it has shot up to more than 30 over the last decade. Compared to the 1950s, the batting average of wicketkeepers has jumped up by 53%. During the same period, the averages for openers went up by about 10.5% (33.42 to 36.90), for all top-order batsmen by about 18% (32.42 to 38.34) and for all tailenders by about 11% (14.05 to 15.63). (Top-order defined as batsmen in positions 1 to 7, and tailenders as positions 8 to 11.) In each of those cases, the increase in averages is less than 20%, while for wicketkeepers the rise is more than 50% - that expresses the change pretty eloquently. In the 1950s, there were ten centuries for wicketkeepers in 505 innings - an average of one every 50.5 innings; since 2000, it has gone up to 79 in 1806 innings - that's one every 23 innings.

Batting stats for wicketkeepers in Tests over the decades
Decade Players Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
1950s 38 164 9005 20.60 10/ 39
1960s 35 186 12,150 23.59 12/ 59
1970s 24 198 14,764 27.29 11/ 84
1980s 39 266 15,696 23.63 14/ 63
1990s 37 347 25,950 27.28 30/ 126
2000s 47 464 41,705 31.81 65/ 207
2010s 27 98 8534 30.37 14/ 46
Batting stats for wicketkeepers in Tests before and since 2000
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Before 2000 1480 94,251 24.02 91/ 433
Since 2000 562 50,239 31.55 79/ 253

The team-wise batting stats for wicketkeepers since 2000 has two teams with 42-plus averages, followed by a huge gap, and then the rest. Thanks to Flower and Gilchrist, Zimbabwe and Australia are way ahead of the rest of the sides.

During this period, Zimbabwe have had only three wicketkeepers - Flower, Tatenda Taibu and Regis Chakabva (who has played just one Test). Flower had outstanding stats in the 23 Tests he played during this period, averaging more than 73 in 20 Tests. For Australia, Brad Haddin has been the other keeper who has played plenty of Tests apart from Gilchrist, and he hasn't done badly either with the bat, averaging almost 36 in 43 Tests. And that's despite struggling in his last four series, in which he managed only two half-centuries in 17 innings. Wade has begun well too, though the challenge will be to maintain that average of almost 40. In fact, Australia's batting average for their wicketkeepers since Gilchrist's retirement is 35.88, which is second among all teams - only England's average of 40.66 is higher.

After those two teams, there are six bunched together with averages between 29 and 33. England's average is boosted by Matt Prior's prolific form - he averages more than 43 in 52 Tests. That's made up for the lack of contributions from Geraint Jones and Chris Read, who played 48 Tests between them for a combined average of 23.34. Sri Lanka's overall average has fallen since Kumar Sangakkara decided to give up wicketkeeping in Tests (though his stats as a specialist batsman completely justifies that move). Prasanna Jayawardene, his replacement, didn't contribute a whole lot as a batsman in his early days, but has shown impressive skill and resolve with the bat in the last 18 months.

India have used more wicketkeepers than any other team, mainly because they couldn't make up their minds in the early 2000s, but since MS Dhoni took over he hasn't had much competition. Dhoni's overall batting numbers are reasonably good too, with an average of more than 37 in 67 Tests.

At the bottom of that group of six teams is South Africa, with one wicketkeeper playing almost all their matches during this period. Mark Boucher is far and away the most successful wicketkeeper in terms of dismissals, but his batting stats are slightly disappointing - only two centuries in 122 Tests, and an average of 30.22, is probably a little lesser than what Boucher should have achieved given his ability.

Batting stats for wicketkeepers of each team in Tests since 2000
Team Players Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Zimbabwe 3 48 3477 44.57 46.31 7/ 20
Australia 5 142 7893 42.20 69.89 20/ 35
England 6 156 6981 33.40 53.69 11/ 40
Sri Lanka 6 116 5590 33.07 52.12 11/ 18
New Zealand 7 95 4123 30.54 50.25 7/ 18
India 11 132 5493 30.51 50.59 7/ 33
Pakistan 9 106 4588 29.60 58.01 8/ 21
South Africa 3 128 4813 29.34 50.58 2/ 32
Bangladesh 4 73 2985 23.69 38.51 2/ 13
West Indies 6 127 4279 22.88 48.60 4/ 23

And finally, here's a look at the wicketkeepers with the best batting averages (with a qualification of 2000 runs in the matches in which they kept wicket). Not surprisingly, most of the top names belong to the post-2000 era. The one exception among the top eight is England's Les Ames, who scored eight hundreds in 44 Tests as wicketkeeper, and averaged 43.40. He played in the 1930s, when the overall average of wicketkeepers was 25.67, which offers a good indication of how much better he was than the others in his era. In that decade, Ames scored 2387 runs; no other wicketkeeper scored more than 820.

Wicketkeeper-batsmen with highest Test batting averages (Qual: 2000 runs)
Player Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Andy Flower 55 4404 53.70 12/ 23
Adam Gilchrist 96 5570 47.60 17/ 26
Les Ames 44 2387 43.40 8/ 7
Matt Prior 52 2758 43.09 6/ 19
Kumar Sangakkara 48 3117 40.48 7/ 11
MS Dhoni 67 3509 37.32 5/ 24
Brad Haddin 43 2257 35.82 3/ 10
Alec Stewart 82 4540 34.92 6/ 23
Brendon McCullum 51 2782 34.77 5/ 15
Alan Knott 95 4389 32.75 5/ 30
Jeff Dujon 79 3146 31.46 5/ 16
Farokh Engineer 46 2611 31.08 2/ 16
Only includes matches in which they played as a wicketkeeper.

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

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Comments: 35 
Posted by mikey76 on (April 28, 2012, 18:51 GMT)

Prior head and shoulders above anybody out there. Completely outclassed Haddin and Dhoni in the recent test series, they were his only real competition. All the mistakes that dogged his early career have been virtually banished and he keeps just as well to Swann as the quicks. He's also great to watch. Has a habit of playing important knocks when the chips are down.

Posted by AdrianVanDenStael on (April 28, 2012, 13:40 GMT)

@Truemans_Ghost: Agreed, one can never definitely know what would have happened if Russell (or another keeper) and not Stewart had been behind the stumps in those 80 odd tests. But such evidence as is provided by the numbers backs up your argument.

Posted by Truemans_Ghost on (April 28, 2012, 9:30 GMT)

@Adrian, yes that is exactly my point. Well put. I would caution though that he COULD have made those 1500 extra runs if he'd played at a specialist, not WOULD have done. It shouldn't be forgotten though that an average of 46 was in the 90s when a 40 plus average meant something should not be dismissed lightly, especially in the context of England at the time.

Posted by Mad_Hamish on (April 28, 2012, 4:20 GMT)

After 40 tests Rod Marsh averaged 35, it had peaked at 38. His batting dropped away a lot later in his career. An average of 30 for a keeper is a fair way off pathetic for a #7, looking at the list there's 7 keepers through all of test history who averaged over 35 and made over 2000 runs. Sure he's not Flower or Gilchrist but they're extremely rare (and on what I saw of Flower keep Boucher is significantly better behind the stumps that Flower was) One thing to be aware of is that most keepers batting tends to fall away due to the damage they take to the hands from balls and in the legs from all the squatting and movement so I'd expect Prior to drop below 40 in time and Sangakkara and Flower probably would have dropped if they hadn't given up the gloves.

Posted by Thesonofg on (April 27, 2012, 22:41 GMT)

One thing seemingly overlooked, is what was required of that wicket-keeper batsman? Some did not develop their batting skills too much because they were rarely needed! I think that someone like a Jeff Dujon could have easily made any team as a batsman. Most times he would come in when fast scoring was needed or having no recognized batsman to partner him. Statistics does not do justice to some of these players. Good article, none-the-less.

Posted by   on (April 27, 2012, 22:21 GMT)

I agree with the post below, Boucher is very overhyped, he has an excellent record doesnt mean he is the best wicket keeper, has hardly ever been challenged to stand up to the stumps for an extended period, and I hardly remember him taking any acrobatic takes in the last 6 to 7 years. Compare his keeping to Mccullum, Sangakkara and even Brad Haddin or Matt Prior I dont think hes the best. But his batting obviously should not be judged by his average or hundreds, hes played useful gritty innings for SA throught his career in both one day and t20, only recently hes lost form with the bat.

Posted by CheeseOnAStick on (April 27, 2012, 20:38 GMT)

I have never understood why Boucher is spoken of so highly. He has the most dismissals because he has kept in the most innings; not because he is extraordinary at it. He does this while having the pathetic average of 30-odd after almost 150 matches. In a weaker team he would have been dropped years ago.

On a lighter note I just noticed K. Akmal averages 2 dismissals per innings. Can you imagine the number of chances Pakistan must have generated in his 99 innings for him to actually take 2 of them (on average) every time?

Posted by dadvoc on (April 27, 2012, 20:32 GMT)

Mark Boucher is indeed a great disappointment

Posted by jonesy2 on (April 27, 2012, 16:53 GMT)

prior is a poor keeper end of story

Posted by ozprof on (April 27, 2012, 16:26 GMT)

Interesting that Rod Marsh does not make the list. I think that as much as anything really shows how much the role of a wicketkeeper has changed.

When Marsh was first chosen as the Aust wicketkeeper, much was made of his ability with the bat and how he could contribute in that area.

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S Rajesh Stats editor Every week the Numbers Game takes a look at the story behind the stats, with an original slant on facts and figures. The column is edited by S Rajesh, ESPNcricinfo's stats editor in Bangalore. He did an MBA in marketing, and then worked for a year in advertising, before deciding to chuck it in favour of a job which would combine the pleasures of watching cricket and writing about it. The intense office cricket matches were an added bonus.

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