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

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