September 6, 2016

'Stay low, watch the ball and get your head over your gloves'

The secrets of wicketkeeping revealed - by Ian Healy
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"You need to make sure you've got some power in your quads. That means knees slightly bent and your weight on the balls of your feet, not flat-footed, not on your heels or toes" © Getty Images

What's the main difference between keeping in Australia and elsewhere in the world?
You get more consistent bounce in Australia, so you have more time to move your feet, like Australian keepers want to. We want to move our feet to get outside the line of the ball and take the ball on the inside hip as you move towards the slips.

At Adelaide or Melbourne, at times, it doesn't bounce through consistently, so you've got to work hard. But traditionally Perth, Brisbane, Hobart, Sydney, they are good pitches that bounce through and give you time to move.

Wicketkeeping to the spinners is generally pretty consistent in Australia too. When the legspinner is on, the ball won't often not spin when it's supposed to. It might slide on a bit sometimes, but it won't do anything ridiculous. I think it's a nice place to keep.

What about in Asia?
In the subcontinent, the biggest challenge is reverse swing to the fast bowlers. Everyone thinks keeping up to the spinners is hard work in those places. But I think those pitches are pretty consistent. They might be slow, but again it won't suddenly drag, or really spin or bounce very often. But when you keep to Wasim Akram, standing quite close to the stumps because the ball carries through low, with it swinging late, that is really difficult - a very hard part of those wicketkeepers' jobs.

"If you are watching the bat, you'll look surprised if the ball comes through" © PA Photos

And elsewhere around the world?
Keeping in the West Indies is quite hard, because it doesn't bounce through like it does in Australia, which means you've got to move up a little bit, which cuts down the time you've got to move your feet to those fast men.

In England, the bounce is good, comes through to you nicely, but it does wobble. Sometimes you've just got to survive and watch it into your gloves and not worry too much about moving. Just watch the ball and catch it.

What does a wicketkeeper need to be successful in all of those conditions?
A really solid set of basics. You need an idea of how your feet should go, your body height, your hands and your gloves. And most importantly, to be watching the ball, not watching for what might happen. If you have a good body position, you'll be able to react. You've got to trust that and take anything that you have to take. And then you have to do that 600 times in a day.

How important is it to practise well?
If you have a solid awareness of basics, then when the pressure comes on in a game, when it's getting tight or you're running out of time to win the match, you're not thinking bad stuff. You're not thinking ahead or worrying about the outcome. You know what you have to put in to do your job the best. And before you know it, the game is over, things are done and you've had a good afternoon.

Mastering your basics is important so you know what works for you when you start thinking badly. You can go back to a set of simple statements that get you back on the ball.

"Mark Taylor, at first slip, would have a fair knowledge of when I was going to go, so he either backed up or backed off. That's what you're cementing and reinforcing - your coordination and knowledge between each other" © PA Photos

Where should a wicketkeeper take the ball - on the inside or outside of the body?
Australian wicketkeepers, when we're standing back to the quicks and the ball is bouncing nice and consistently, we like to take it on the inside hip. So that's the left hip if it's a right-handed batsman and the right hip for a left-hander. We get our feet going and our body just outside the line of the ball.

If it starts wobbling or if you haven't got time for that, you just have to survive and catch it right in front of you. I've got no problems resorting to that for a little period, until you get used to that wobble or that inconsistent bounce.

What are the advantages of that technique?
I think the wicketkeeper is moving better, doing that. Their rhythm is set up to go with the ball, whether the batsman misses or edges it. That allows your slips to spread out a bit more and you get a greater coverage from your slips cordon.

Sometimes that doesn't work, though. Because some days a wicketkeeper doesn't feel as good as other days, so you have to position the slips based on how you're feeling on that day. You don't want to have a big, wide gap between yourself and first slip if you're not moving very well. You'll get caught out and the misery will get worse and worse.

Should a keeper watch the ball or the edge of the bat?
You have to only watch the ball. You have to forget the bat. Forget the batsman is there. Watch it and expect the batsman to miss it every ball. Be in position to take the ball, even when they hit it, just in case. If you concentrate on that for 15 to 20 minutes, it becomes natural and your brain is just doing that and the session goes well.

"What you need when batting against Warne is a good technique. You need a solid plan and an array of shots to keep some pressure on him" © PA Photos

When there is a nick and you're in great form, it feels like slow motion. It's just a delight to hear that edge. Here comes the ball, it's on its way. If you're watching it, that is.

What happens if you do watch the bat and not the ball?
You'll be a split-second late. Either your fingers won't grasp around the ball, or it'll be a jerky movement at the end, maybe to your right. You won't be powerful and smooth in your movement into the catch. You have a big chance of dropping it. Just those final reflexes will be too slow. If you are watching the bat, you'll look surprised if the ball comes through. That's when you know that you weren't watching the ball.

What's the ideal body position for a wicketkeeper?
It varies for different body shapes. You need to make sure you've got some power in your quads. That means knees slightly bent and your weight on the balls of your feet, not flat-footed, not on your heels or toes. You've got to have some power, ready to go if you need it. If you're watching the ball only, you'll be able to move nice and strongly to wherever you have to be.

How do you know when the ball feels right in your hand?
There's a difference between catching the ball and catching the ball right. The sound it should make going into your gloves should be a clean, nice thud. You can hear when the ball scrapes into your gloves.

You learnt a lot from Queensland wicketkeeper Peter Anderson. What did he teach you?
He had a sharpness and fanaticism over everything he practised. Head over your gloves, having the power so you can get the gloves towards the bails quickly. You just practise that for hours so that it feels natural and that's how you do it in a match. We'd probably practise eight hours a week together on all facets of wicketkeeping.

(From left) Ian Healy fields alongside Mark Taylor and Mark Waugh at the SCG against West Indies in 1996 © Associated Press

In the Australian team, how did you work together with your slips?
We practised a lot. I'm not sure teams do that enough at the moment, and when they do, they do it really hard - throw it hard, hit the ball really hard at the fielders. You can actually vary it - short and sharp catches, longer ones that put their hands under a bit of pressure. Or middle-range ones, where you're not only practising catching but the cordon practises decisions, whether to go or not to go.

You've got to get a good feel for the person next to you, as to what they know and feel about you. So Mark Taylor at first slip would have a fair knowledge of when I was going to go, so he either backed up or backed off. Those decisions are more important than actual catching practice. That's what you're cementing and reinforcing - your coordination and knowledge between each other. We had a wonderful slips cordon: Taylor, Allan Border, if he needed to go in there, Mark Waugh, Steve Waugh at gully, [Shane] Warney snuck in there. So yeah, good catchers.

Does the standard of today's wicketkeeping frustrate you?
Yes, I think so. I don't mind the keepers who are good enough to do the job quite well. I don't mind that they are more known for their batting than their wicketkeeping, if they do a job behind the stumps. There aren't too many absolute part-timers in there now. I think we see a few too many of them attempting it in T20, and T20, for me, is the game where you need your best keeper. The wickets don't do too much, so the impact of a brilliant stumping off a medium-pacer, or a class spinner, is huge in T20. So is the impact of a missed dismissal. You pick your best keeper because you don't need another batsman in 20 overs. You can bat the keeper anywhere you like. You don't really need all your batsmen in 20 overs.

"Gilchrist doesn't fit into that category of wicketkeeper that's in there because of his batting. He was good enough with the gloves" © Getty Images

Who's the best current international wicketkeeper?
They all have their moments. It's pretty even. Pakistan's Sarfraz Ahmed seems to cope well with the tricky spinners they've got. I saw the Sri Lankan wicketkeeper, Dinesh Chandimal, in this year's Test at Galle against Australia. He kept unbelievably well to the left-arm chinaman [Lakshan Sandakan], the right-arm offie [Dilruwan Perera] and the left-arm orthodox, [Rangana] Herath. Chandimal is as good as it gets. Peter Nevill is a very good technician. England are still toing and froing with part-timers.

What about MS Dhoni?
Dhoni has been an unbelievable keeper for India. He should make so many more errors the way he keeps, but he doesn't. He gets the job done. He doesn't seem to practise very often, but his No. 1 priority is to get the job done. He doesn't care whether he sticks the foot out sometimes and stops it with his pad. As captain, he's got to think about the team, its fortune, and he's got a high level of spin bowler to keep to in difficult conditions. It's a real challenge and I'm amazed how durable he's been, how long he's been able to maintain that position as wicketkeeper, captain and gun batsman.

Did Adam Gilchrist finish off the traditional non-batting keeper as a member of an international side?
Not really, no. I think that Gilly was good enough with the gloves. He was a wicketkeeper and an outstanding batsman. Probably the best batsman in the team, and a more than adequate wicketkeeper to do the job for Australia. Never sell his gloves anything short of that, because I think he was fine. He wasn't as good in his early years as he could have been. But he got it right towards the end. He doesn't fit into that category of wicketkeeper that's in there because of his batting. He was good enough with the gloves.

Australia's current Test keeper, Peter Nevill, trains with Healy at the Gabba © Getty Images

Have teams since tended to want first and foremost a front-line batsman, and if they can keep a bit, that's an advantage?
Maybe, but you're playing with fire there, trying to match Gilchrist's batting. Good luck with that. It's like all the kids who've been bowling legspin over the last 20 years. We've developed maybe one or two, that's it. Players like Gilchrist and Warne are once-in-a-generation players and may be impossible to emulate.

I thought after Gilly what Australia needed was the best wicketkeeper, because our bowlers weren't that good. Our bowlers weren't creating the opportunities that Glenn McGrath and Warne used to. We had to make sure we took every single chance, so we needed a really strong wicketkeeper after Adam. You've got to change what you need when the cycles of your team change.

Does a wicketkeeper's eyesight have to be really good?
I kept in contact lenses. To be a first-class athlete in any sport, you need good eyesight, so yeah, it's probably underrated. A lot of people don't know that they haven't got good eyesight. It's certainly worth checking out.

Did you ever get any vision training? No, not really. My optometrist always tried to get me to do some exercises to improve my vision. But she was always disappointed.

"When you're catching the ball, you want your eyes right over the top of the gloves. And then be as quick as you can to get it back and get the bail off" © Getty Images

Does a wicketkeeper have to be as fit as an outfielder?
Fitter than an outfielder. A wicketkeeper has to be one of the fittest in the team. Batsmen get out and don't have to concentrate any more. A bowler is out of the attack and doesn't have to think about his set skill for a while. But a keeper has to do it day in day out for long periods.

It's a real combination between aerobic fitness, to get through a day, and psychological fitness, so you can concentrate for a whole day. You have to ration out your concentration and switch down a lot.

You have to be confident that your physical fitness is high, so you don't start thinking, "Hell, I've got two and a half hours to go here." That should never enter into your mind. And the days it does, you're in a bit of trouble. You need strength, speed, aerobic fitness, some endurance.

How did you ration your concentration during a long day?
You set the session up in the first 15 to 20 minutes. Make sure you're getting into really good habits. Then it'll look after itself a little bit, so you're not anxious, you're not having to tell yourself all the time to do these things. It just flows much better. Then relax with your team-mates and find some fun out there. Before you know it, it's lunch and then, before you know it, it's tea. And then the day is over.

What about taking stumpings? What's the strategy and technique there?
The whole goal of standing up to the stumps is to get your head over your gloves. So when you're catching the ball, you want your eyes right over the top of the gloves - a little bit of cushion in the catch, soft gloves. And then be as quick as you can to get it back and get the bail off. Forget the bat, watch the ball. It's about having the balance to do all that.

"When there is a nick and you're in great form, it feels like slow motion. It's just a delight to hear that edge" © PA Photos

Did keeping to Shane Warne make it easier to play him when you were batting?
Not really. What you need when batting against Warne is a good technique. It doesn't matter how fast your feet are if you make a bad decision. You need a solid plan and an array of shots to keep some pressure on him. And then to get away with a risk or two, because most of the run-scoring options on a pitch that's supporting him are risky. Get away with your first few risks and then play a few shots, like a sweep shot, to get off strike; and work with the spin. Then you're a chance, but that's all.

And to keep to him? What's the secret?
You need a real solid set of basics. Stay low, watch the ball and get your head over your gloves. You don't need anything more.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • __PK on September 13, 2016, 21:51 GMT

    Brilliant commentator, despite the noise from the peanut gallery. The best technical mind in the game, the best understand of how to play cricket. The above article is just a taste of his indepth knowlege of every aspect of the game - not just keeping. Forget the fact that he doesn't insincerely pretend to want your team to win like everyone else - listen to what he says. Anyone can blah blah about what's happening in the game and cheer loudly for whoever just hit a six, anyone can pretend not to care about who wins. But if you want to know what it's like for a player - any player - only Healy gives you that.

  • Udendra on September 13, 2016, 5:38 GMT

    I wonder how he mentioned Chandimal as one of the best going around? May be in comparison to the current wicketkeepers. But in my opinion Dickwella and KJP are better with the gloves than Chandimal. It's just that they don't get much opportunities behind the wicket.

  • SamRoy on September 12, 2016, 16:56 GMT

    Though I really dislike Healy's commentary for Channel 9; I must say watching Healy keep to Warney was absolute pleasure. Three of my favorite cricket memories growing up in my early teens (in the mid & late 90s) 1. Warne bowling on a day 5 pitch and Healy keeping 2. Akram bowling when there was reverse both ways 3. Lara batting on a 100.

  • RajPer99 on September 12, 2016, 16:38 GMT

    Good, instructive article from which coaches and aspiring wicket keepers can benefit. As a coach of young children, I will refer to this piece. Thanks. It would be great if Mr. Healy were to bring this same objectivity to the match when commentating.

  • Hrolf on September 12, 2016, 14:15 GMT

    Absolute gold from the greatest keeper in the last 40 years

  • countjimmoriarty on September 12, 2016, 13:13 GMT

    He's always excellent when talking about the art of wicketkeeping. Makes it sadder that he is such an atrocious commentator.

  • CricketMaan on September 12, 2016, 12:25 GMT

    Just as batting and bowling has evolved, so has wicketkeeper's skill atleast in the shorter formats. A short format Wkt keeper spends a lot more time with batting in nets than just his primary skill. Nature of the beast. There is so much talk about batsmen that can keep in modern day cricket rather than the other way. With T20 its only going to stay that way where a batsman that can tonk the ball who only needs to catch 30-40% of the deliveries will be needed. That is why Test cricket will need to stay the way it is! So one can relish the joy of watching wicket keeping. In the modern day cricket MSD has amazed me as every legendary Wkt keeper has mentioned that he has not got the basics or pure technique, but boy look at his statistics and its amazing. add the other responsibilities as captain and finisher that is enormous.

  • whoster on September 12, 2016, 12:10 GMT

    Probably the best keeper of the last 30 years.

  • Cricinfouser on September 12, 2016, 11:56 GMT

    Super piece. Wicketkeeping is simple for greats like Heals. How many people remember any of his diving catches, I am sure quite a lot would remember about the bye in Pakistan. That's why he was an all time Great.

  • chitrabhanu on September 12, 2016, 9:36 GMT

    Excellent piece, lovely to read. On a side note, it's amusing to see how much less cricket AU commentators are watching outside AU/ Eng matches. I was quite surprised not to see Saha`s name not coming in his list. May be he hasn't seen any Indian tests in last 6 months or so.

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