Wicketkeepers September 21, 2009

Five for keeps

Pure keeper or keeper-batsman? The old debate resurfaces again

Allrounders, middle order, spinners, fast bowlers - even openers - you can perhaps compromise on. You can perhaps choose one middle-order batsman fewer and bring in an extra allrounder, you can choose only two specialist fast bowlers and go for an extra spinner or a bowling allrounder, you can even pick no specialist spinner at all; but the wicketkeeper is a member not to be messed with - not in any team.

From New Zealand's first wicketkeeper, Ken James, to their current one, Brendon McCullum, we have five of their finest here, who all present unique cases for themselves.

James was believed to be outstanding, one of the few Test-class cricketers in a side that wasn't ready for Test cricket when it started out, in 1927. Ken Wadsworth's fierce will to win was a bonus, along with his brilliant work behind the stumps. Ian Smith was a proper wicketkeeper-batsman; his dogged batting late in the Test order and handy aggression in ODIs were important to one of the most successful phases in New Zealand history. Adam Parore was perhaps the most consistent Test keeper in the world during his time, and was good enough to hold on to his batting place when Lee Germon took over keeping duties for a brief time. McCullum, though, is the only one on the list who can make the national team even if he decides not to keep wicket; but what exactly are our selectors looking for in their keeper?

Every wicketkeeper is a mix of a batsman and a keeper, but given the number of skilled players among the New Zealand greats, the selectors could be looking for more of a keeper than a batter.

The contenders

Ken Wadsworth "Flamboyant, colourful and confident" - the noted cricket writer Dick Brittenden calls Wadsworth an Aussie. Wadsworth's contribution to the team of the seventies went beyond his 96 dismissals and a batting average of 21.48. A year after death cut short his career when at its peak, the Australians agreed to start their tour match a day before schedule because they wanted to play the Wadsworth testimonial match - and they fielded their Test XI for it.

Ian Smith Smith holds enviable records for his batting. His 173 off 136 balls against India in 1989-90 is the highest for a No. 9, his strike-rate of 99.43 in ODIs is the third-highest for batsmen who have managed 1000 runs, and he also took 24 off one Atul Wasan over - a Test record then. All along, his wicketkeeping hardly ever made the headlines for the wrong reasons, and more importantly, he played his cricket with effervescence and warmth.

Ken James One of the first New Zealand internationals to make an impression outside the country, James excelled while keeping to Bill Merritt's legbreaks and googlies as the two formed an efficient team at Northamptonshire, for whom James scored over a thousand runs in 1938. James was one of the first keepers to stand back to medium-pacers. His lightning reflexes and quick hands helped keep inconspicuous a batting average of 4.72 in Tests.

Adam Parore Nicknamed Maverick, often rebellious, Parore was considered brash. And indeed, if you pulled off dismissals as pictured above, your sense of self-worth would naturally be high. Parore had the skill, and was born in the right era, to have possibly become the first New Zealander to play 100 Tests. The personality clashes that kept him from achieving that landmark can't take away from his fine work both in front of and behind the stumps.

Brendon McCullum Supremely athletic as a wicketkeeper and explosively aggressive as a batsman, McCullum was born for limited-overs cricket, and gives MS Dhoni and Kumar Sangakkara a tough fight when it comes to picking the best current wicketkeeper-batsman. Sangakkara now plays just as a batsman in Tests, which - given the current New Zealand middle order - McCullum can well do too.

We'll be publishing an all-time New Zealand XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To vote for your top New Zealand wicketkeeper click here

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments