Wicketkeepers July 3, 2009

Golden glovemen

Wicketkeeper or wicketkeeper-batsman? Making the decision harder is the fact these are six of the best ever in the world

Immaculate wicketkeeping was a signature of Australia's best glovemen, and if the standard of those behind the stumps wasn't high enough over the country's first 120 years of Tests, along came Adam Gilchrist to lift the role to untouchable heights.

Before Gilchrist, the most important criteria was safe hands, and this list contains men who were more secure than bank vaults.

This category in Australia's All-time XI search is more complicated than the previous sections as it contains wicketkeepers and a wicketkeeper-batsman in Gilchrist who could have found himself in the allrounder group. So voters are torn between selecting two men in one, or choosing the best exponent of the traditional role.

Over the past four decades Australia have boasted three of the most capable wicketkeepers and built a tradition that is almost impossible to match. Rod Marsh was the first of the greats to overcome a difficult start, and his world record was taken by Ian Healy, who then watched Gilchrist usurp his national mark.

The line of tough and talented glovemen was started by Jack Blackham, who stood in the first Test. Bert Oldfield joined the production line between the wars. Global peace allowed Don Tallon to emerge, and he quickly became the country's benchmark for tidiness. Not only are these six men the best in Australia, they are among the best in the world.

The contenders

Rod Marsh The first Australian wicketkeeper to score a century, Marsh kept wicket in the 1970s and 1980s. He retired as a world-record holder, and held the mark until late in Ian Healy's career.

Jack Blackham Australia's first Test wicketkeeper, Blackham was a fixture until 1894. He wore flimsy gloves, and rarely flinched despite often standing up to the fast bowlers.

Don Tallon Probably the country's finest gloveman, Tallon was an Invincible who appeared in 21 Tests. Nobody who watched him believes anybody could keep any better.

Adam Gilchrist Not the most pure poucher, but a mightily successful one, who briefly held the world record for dismissals. His ferocious batting effectively gave his team an extra man.

Bert Oldfield Another long-term custodian with outstanding reflexes, Oldfield finished in 1937 with 52 stumpings in his 130 dismissals.

Ian Healy A keeper's keeper, Healy was meticulous throughout his 119 Tests, many of them spent keeping to Shane Warne. If he hadn't been followed by Gilchrist, his name would still evoke wicketkeeping awe.

Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo