ESPNcricinfo picks the best Test teams of all time


Stumpers and stoppers

Is competence sufficient, or should only the very best catcher make the grade?

Andrew Miller

August 11, 2009

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Yorkshire v Gloucestershire, Benson and Hedges Cup, semi final, Leeds, 25 June 2001
Jack Russell: eccentric and brilliant, but will he make it on the strength of his keeping alone? Paul McGregor / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
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For all the selection dilemmas thrown up in this search for England's finest, no single poser can generate more debate than the hunt for the wicketkeeper. What, exactly, is the role that you wish to have fulfilled by the man at No. 7? Should you select the superior gloveman, a player guaranteed to cling on to every nick and to cut off every bye, or should you sacrifice some of that expertise in order to shoehorn an extra batsman into your line-up?

The stumper v stopper debate is one that has existed since the beginnings of time, but rarely more vehemently than in England. When Jack Russell was omitted from the tour of India in 1992-93 - in favour of Alec Stewart and the supposedly superior batsman, Richard Blakey - the MCC tabled a motion of no-confidence in the selectors, but every generation has its own tale of disputed priorities.

Les Ames, who has made it onto this shortlist after a decade of excellence in the 1930s, kept his rival George Duckworth waiting and hoping for a chance to demonstrate his class - 24 matches in a 12-year career were scant reward for his skills. Likewise, Godfrey Evans (a narrow omission from the reckoning) put Northamptonshire's Keith Andrew deep in the shade. And Bob Taylor was Alan Knott's uncomplaining understudy for innumerable tours throughout the 1970s.

Latterly, Geraint Jones and Matt Prior have been picked (and often derided for their clunky stumpwork) ahead of purists such as Chris Read and James Foster, and doubtless the same debate will extend into future generations - although the emergence of Twenty20 cricket may yet spark a renaissance for the lost art of wicketkeeping.

For now, however, our shortlist reflects the general preference for stoppers over stumpers. Five names make the cut, three of whom were worthy of Test selection as out-and-out batsmen. But when it comes to England's all-time XI, is competence sufficient, or should only the very best catcher make the grade?

The contenders

Alan Knott England's original jack-in-a-box. A superb No. 7 and almost without fault behind the stumps, especially when standing up to his Kent colleague Derek Underwood. Featured in 89 of England's 93 Tests until he joined World Series Cricket in 1977.

Alec Stewart The allrounder England took for granted. England's most capped cricketer could have been one of their outstanding opening bats, but he instead perfected his wicketkeeping to answer his country's call.

Bob Taylor The silkiest gloveman of his generation, but habitually overlooked on account of Knott's superior batting. Nevertheless, still good enough to stand in during a Lord's Test in 1986, several years after his retirement.

Les Ames England's pre-war stalwart, and Douglas Jardine's pick to partner Harold Larwood in the Bodyline Ashes. Another of Kent's fine dynasty of stumpers, he was a classy batsman in his own right, amassing eight centuries in 47 Tests.

Jack Russell Quirky, eccentric and brilliant, Russell was arguably England's one world-class player of the 1990s, but his perceived frailties with the bat cost him many more caps. Johannesburg 1995-96 was his finest hour - 11 catches, and a match-saving stand with Mike Atherton.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007

England jury

Scyld Berry
Scyld Berry
Wisden editor, Sunday Telegraph correspondent; author of Cricket Wallah among other books
XI: Sutcliffe, Hutton, Stewart, Hammond, Pietersen, Gower, Botham, Rhodes, Trueman, Snow, Barnes
Lawrence Booth
Lawrence Booth
Guardian cricket writer, author of the weekly email newsletter The Spin, and Cricinfo columnist
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hutton, Barrington, Hammond, Pietersen, Botham, Knott, Underwood, Barnes, Willis
Stephen Brenkley
Cricket correspondent of the Independent
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Gower, Barrington, Jackson, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Barnes, Rhodes
David Frith
David Frith
Cricket historian, writer and archivist. Author of the definitive history of Bodyline
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond, Compton, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Laker, Verity, Larwood, Barnes
Tim de Lisle
Tim de Lisle
Former editor of Wisden and Wisden Cricket Monthly; editor of Intelligent Life magazine
XI: Hobbs, Brearley, Hammond, Pietersen, Barrington, Greig, Botham, Knott, Trueman, Underwood, Barnes
Steven Lynch
Steven Lynch
Deputy editor of Wisden, editor of the Cricinfo Guide to International Cricket, and writer of the Ask Steven column on Cricinfo
XI: Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Compton, Pietersen, Botham, Knott, Barnes, Larwood, Laker, Trueman
Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Christopher Martin-Jenkins
Former cricket correspondent for the Times the BBC and the Daily Telegraph; Test Match Special commentator
XI: Hutton, Hammond, Compton, May, Botham, Knott, Rhodes, Laker, Trueman, Barnes
Peter Roebuck
Peter Roebuck
Former captain of Somerset; author of It Never Rains and Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh among other books.
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, May, Hammond, Compton, Barrington, Knott, Larwood, Tyson, Barnes, Underwood
Mike Selvey
Mike Selvey
Former England fast bowler; cricket correspondent of the Guardian
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Sutcliffe, Hammond, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Tyson, Snow, Barnes
John Stern
John Stern
Editor, The Wisden Cricketer
XI: Hobbs, Hutton, Hammond, Gower, Barrington, Botham, Knott, Larwood, Bedser, Underwood, Snow

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