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 have now been closed for this article

  • Heath on September 24, 2009, 5:47 GMT

    Warren Less was also a very good wicket-keeper for NZ,He and Sir Richard Hadlee use to bat well together.Ken Wadsworth too was very good and a more than a hardy lower order batsman as well.

  • Mathew on September 23, 2009, 8:52 GMT

    This is a tough choice because what I really want is to splice McCullum's brilliance to Parore's accuracy and bloodymindedness and Smith's wit and exuberance. Then we would have the perfect Keeper.Unfortunately, if NZ Cricket tried it we would probably end up with Smith's talent, Parore's charm and McCullum's consistency, or lack thereof.

    Given that we only have one choice, I would go for Parore for his consistancy and experience keeping to Hadlee, Bond and Vettori, all surely certainties for this team.

  • Ben on September 23, 2009, 0:24 GMT

    Chairman, you say it's all about the numbers, and that numbers make it all objective - well, the relevant number here, as others have already pointed out, is 4 million - the population of NZ. Considering that, we've often punched above our weight in international cricket. Yes Kiwi cricket fans would love to see some more consistent results, but the fact is (as this exercise is pointing out) we've produced what is really a surprising amount of more than handy cricketers, all factors considered.

    As to this debate, McCullum is probably our most under-perfoming player currently, and seems to be rated much more highly overseas than he is here at home (probably because we follow his every performance, while overseas cricket fans know him more from a few prominent innings, like the tonne in the first ever IPL game. Sadly these are all too rare). Smith on the other hand gave his all on the field and was named the best keeper in the world (when playing) by Hadlee - that's good enough for me.

  • Kahurangi on September 22, 2009, 23:58 GMT

    Sri Lanka has produced more quality cricketers? Great batsmen for sure, but can anybody name me a Sri Lankan bowler outside of Vaas and Muralitharan that is world class. And I would pick at least 10 NZ pace bowlers of better quality ahead of Vaas in a team any day of the week.

  • Kahurangi on September 22, 2009, 21:02 GMT

    ChairmanValvod - I agree with you generally though with the overall quality of NZ cricketers compared to other countries. Yet when it comes to selecting an all time team this NZ side would foot it with any of the others on show. Particularly the bowling side of things where we have great bowlers (and stats back this up) like Hadlee, Bond and Cowie, all with averages in the low 20s and a world class all rounder like Cairns. I don't think all subcontinent seamers are rubbish just because many of them have high averages because they play on batter friendly pitches. Just because Kapil Dev had a bowling average of close to 30 doesn't make him any less of a world class bowler. The point is you have to take into account local factors. Also if you look at NZ's series results from the 80s, there was a 7-8 year stretch where we hardly lost a series, and even beat the WI. Not many other teams did that at that time. Along with Pakistan, NZ was probably the no. 1 team for a time.

  • Kahurangi on September 22, 2009, 20:51 GMT

    ChairmanValvod - batting is pretty secondary for a keeper if they have poor keeping skills. Using the example of Tendulkar is ridiculous, particularly citing ODI figures when this article is about test players. Players like Tendulkar hardly come around every day, and his figures put in the shade just about every other player. Its no suprise he has so many hundreds given the number of ODIs he has played. A player like Jayasuriya also has a lot of ODI hundreds yet he averages in the low 30s. And yet NZ players would probably be considered worse just because they haven't played the sheer number of games he has? You obviously have never played on an NZ pitch, where compared to the dead wickets for bowlers on the subcontinent, runs are much harder to come by. This is a statistical fact, all batsmen (NZ and overseas players) have performed worse over here than in their home conditions. It is only very recently NZ pitches have flattened out.

  • Lindsay on September 22, 2009, 20:33 GMT

    Valve, you're getting away from the task at hand, namely picking the greatest ever NZ team. Call me Susan and cover me with gaffer tape but no-one ever won a game of cricket on paper (no offense to the scorers). So even though our mediocre battlers might on average score 150 fewer runs than their Aussie equivalents over 5 days this doesn't mean we won't beat them in a test series. Cricket's a team game which requires character and other human qualities - only robots score to their average every game. The English team of 2005 was inferior to the Aussie team yet won the ashes. And that Aussie team had a backbone of true masters like McGrath, Warne, Gilchrist, Ponting and Hayden and a few other world class mates to back them up. The stats meant nothing. Give me Hadlee, Bond and Cowie charging in to Bradman and co and I'll back our chances. Our batting's a bit stat-lite, but I think Turner, Sutcliffe, Crowe and Dempster would enjoy batting on these easy-peasy modern pitches against anyone.

  • Mihir on September 22, 2009, 16:02 GMT

    Let me highlight further by what I mean by NZ sub par cricketers. Take for example an interesting stat that I just read on cricinfo. The enitrety of NZ cricketers in all theri ODI history have scored only 26 more centuries than sachin Tendulkar alone. Tendulkar has 44 ODI tons to NZ's overall 70. Does that not strike anyone as plain old unacceptable. If I were to guess, I would New Zealand is probably ahead of only Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in century's scored in both formats. Sri Lanka became a full member nation much much later than NZ, but I can safely say that they have achieved and produced immeasurably more and better by way of wins and quality cricekters than NZ. There are probably so many more examples I can make. And no I am not from Sri Lanka.

  • Mihir on September 22, 2009, 15:53 GMT

    No matter how one tries to sugarcoat the fact, you can call it grit, determination, and so forth, but those words, no matter how glorious they sound, do not translate into championships or greatness, or bottomline, wins. Call it for what it is, mediocrity. If this is the best list of all time NZ wicket keepers, it's simply mediocore. You can try and sugarcoat the facts, but numbers don't lie. Numbers cut out the subjective and emotion out of things. The numbers for NZ cricketers in general are just absurdly mediocore compared to the other Test playing nations. The truth is is sometimes tought to digest. There's nothing wrong with that. You should call out your cricketadministrators and cricketers for what they are. Hopefully it improvges the cricket standards in NZ abnd they start producing some real world class and world beating talent. I know my country has produced its share of mediocore cricketers, but thankfully we have a lot more world class cricketers aroudn as well.

  • adam on September 22, 2009, 12:19 GMT

    I'm a little tired of hearing the old excuse that NZ batsmen have low averges because of pitch conditions in NZ. With the one exception of Stephen Fleming all of our other top batsmen from the last 25 years average far higher playing at home than away. The simple reason NZ batsmen have lower overall averages than overseas batsmen is that the tend to be poorer batsmen. We just don't produce top flight international cricketers regularly. But I think as far as keepers go, there are some really good glovemen among this lot, I think Parore being the finest. He was the premiere keeper in the world during his time, and a classy, if unfulfilled, test batsman. McCullum has done nothing at test level to deserve a reputation as a test batsman, aside from a couple of good 90's in England. After nearly 50 tests it's a little late to be playing on 'potential'. A prediction: McCullum's test performances will continue to slide until he calls quits to chase 20/20 money for a living.

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