Wicketkeeper December 4, 2009

Can keep, can score

South Africa's top keepers have all mostly been more than capable with the bat

The thoroughly English notion of a wicketkeeper who can't hold a bat doesn't wash in the South African cricket consciousness. If the keeper is a liability as a batsman, he's simply a liability. This is probably because South African innings so often need rescuing, and who better to do so than the team's de facto sergeant-major.

So much so that the five fine glovemen our jury have included in their shortlist could all be considered allrounders. In fact, Denis Lindsay and Johnny Waite were probably better known and more appreciated for their batting feats than for keeping it tidy.

Similarly, Mark Boucher is destined to be remembered as the straight arrow who convinced Herschelle Gibbs to tell the truth about match-fixing to the King Commission, as the young turk who stood tall in only his second Test to share a world record ninth-wicket stand with Pat Symcox, as a champion hoarder of records of every description, as a batsman for the big moment, and as someone who you just don't want to mess with. Keeping? Yeah, he did a bit of that, too.

Nevertheless, South Africa has produced some of the finest stumpers ever to crouch behind the wicket.

Isolation victim Ray Jennings flew through the air with the greatest of ease and came up with the ball more often than not.

Steven Palframan was a world-class acrobat, who will forever be the klutz who dropped Brian Lara early in his superb 111 in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final. Palframan was haunted by the incident for years afterwards, insisting that the ball had bounced and admitting to spending hours in front of his television replaying the catch that might have been.

Wendell Bossenger - rightfully honoured as one of the SA Mutual and Federal Annual's Five Cricketers of the Year in 2009 - coulda, woulda, shoulda made the leap to international level. Alas, he faded from view when Griqualand West found themselves frozen out of the top flight at the dawn of the franchise era.

Nic Pothas looked, walked and talked like the real thing, and put in the hard yards early in a career that, unfortunately for him, coincided with Boucher's. Pothas is now an ersatz Englishman.

Boucher still looms so large on the wicketkeeping landscape in his country that South Africans struggle to see past him. And that despite the fact that he turns 33 on December 3 and no one else's knees have ever had to put up with 126 Test matches as a keeper.

But who will replace him? Thami Tsolekile is a spent force and AB de Villiers is reluctant. The South African selectors signalled their intent this season when they shone their light on Heino Kuhn, a busy young man not short on confidence. Who knows whether he might one day end up on a list like the one below? For now, these are our contenders for the best of South Africa's wicketkeepers.

Mark Boucher
Jut-jawed, big-shouldered, hard-headed and almost maniacally competitive, he is a pit bull made human. Few share his brand of never-say-die spirit, but many will miss it when he calls time on a legendary career.

Johnny Waite
The Humphrey Bogart of glovemen. Lean, urbane, confident, as a nephew of Eric Rowan should be. Kept immaculately on one side of the crease, and batted bravely on the other.

Jock Cameron
Wisden eulogised him as a "very fine personality". For those who knew him less well, his stumpings were akin to a single beat of a hummingbird's wing, and he hit the ball as if it had insulted his mother.

Denis Lindsay
Few men have batted with such obvious enjoyment as Lindsay did, hooking and driving like a 10-year-old in his back garden. Except that he middled the ball rather more often than a novice, and held his catches like a master.

Dave Richardson
Belonged to an era when cricketers still had real jobs - in his case, as a lawyer. Was an utterly dependable fixture behind the stumps for seven years after South Africa's return from isolation. Truly gritty as a batsman.

We'll be publishing an all-time South Africa XI based on readers' votes to go with our jury's XI. To pick your wicketkeeper click here

Telford Vice made his Test debut as a cricket writer in Barbados in 1992 - the match that marked the end of South Africa's isolation

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Philip on December 7, 2009, 23:06 GMT

    It is sad to see the decline of true wicketkeeping as an art form. Boucher is called "The Poucher" because he can only really catch. His stumping ability is poor and his performance in the World XI fiasco in Sydney against quality spinners was substandard. Sanga would have done a better job. It is doubly sad as SAf once had quality spinners and keepers. This is a best of team. How would Boucher go with Faulkener or Tayfield? Badly, I suspect. Therefore, Lindsay would be a far better bet. I'm not against keepers being good bats. There's nothing new in that. Les Ames managed both decades ago. But, they should first and foremost be keepers. The true test of a keeper is not just his catching and especially not consistently diving one-handed.

  • Alex on December 6, 2009, 14:15 GMT

    I would say Denis Lindsay. One thing on the South African keeper front that has amazed me is how long Boucher has remained in the current setup. When Richardson vacated the keep position I have never got why Nic Pothas was not selected to replace Richardson. As a regular spectator at Hampshire matches his batting is class, his keeping is tidy and his presence is constant. His career statistics not only match Bouchers but in some aspects far exceed them. Boucher is now way past it.

  • Paul on December 6, 2009, 12:54 GMT

    Denis Lindsay everytime. Originally selected as a middle order BATSMAN (Boucher began at 9) and then pushed Johnny Waite into retirement in an era when keeping ability was more important than batting prowess. His stumping of Colin Cowdrey was incredibly quick and he kept to a battery of fast bowlers. He marmalised the Australian bowling with his batting - not many will do that.

  • Phil on December 5, 2009, 20:20 GMT

    I know we're getting slightly off the subject, and that everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but really, Boucher and Gilchrist the best 2 keepers of all time? One could write a long list of better keepers, but let's just mention Alan Knott, Bob Taylor, Wasim Bari and Godfrey Evans. Different class.

  • Sharad on December 5, 2009, 19:39 GMT

    MY VOTE GOES TO BOUCHER THE POUCHER - not just for for hitting the winning boundary in that historic chase of 434.

    @atifashrafbaig - you comment on Dhoni with a username like that? You rule yourself out mate.

  • Prince on December 5, 2009, 14:32 GMT

    Mark Boucher is good,but nowhere near the likes of Gilchrist,Sangakkara,& Dhoni(in this order).Period.

  • Manasvi on December 5, 2009, 4:47 GMT

    Percy Sherwell ought to have definitely been in the shortlist, ahead of Richardson. He averaged pretty much the same (in an era when most keepers averaged around 10-20) and was regarded very highly by his contemporaries.

  • Phil on December 4, 2009, 23:20 GMT

    I'm lucky enough to have seen Denis Lindsay - a better keeper and better batsman than Boucher who (like Boucher) got his runs when they were really needed. His batting feats against Australia in 1967 were on a par with Botham's in 1981. Perhaps he didn't keep to spin as much as, say, Waite but, in this team, he probably wouldn't need to. I didn't see Waite but if, as BoundryWarrior says, he was a better keeper than Lindsay, he must have been very good indeed. But my choice has to be Lindsay.

  • sonu on December 4, 2009, 22:36 GMT


  • Adrian on December 4, 2009, 22:33 GMT

    Mark Richardson was a great keeper but the era of Boucher/Gilchrist was the most fantastic of all time, where you had the 2 best keepers in history fighting off against each other for records for most dismissals in an innings, most in a match, most average dismissals per match and generally brilliant. While Gilchrist was often hounded by the unfair "batsman/keeper" tag, because of his at times brilliant batting, that led some to pretend that he wasn't a great keeper in his own right, Boucher had no such problems. For Boucher, though, he surprisingly lost his place, seemingly for political reasons. It should not be forgotten that, whilst Boucher was no Gilchrist as a batsman, on his day he could strike very, very well, often batting as high as 6 in test cricket and sometimes opening in ODIs. Richardson is a distant 2nd and Boucher is easily the best.

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