Wicketkeeper March 8, 2010

Batsman-keeper or keeper-batsman?

A highly talented four-Test wonder, a Lord's centurion, an explosive batsman, the current captain and his successor behind the stumps make up the wicketkeeping shortlist

Picking a wicketkeeper for the national team has never been a problem for Sri Lanka since they have produced some of the greatest glovemen the game has ever seen, before and after the Second World War. The sad part is, the cricket world never heard of many of them because Sri Lanka had not qualified for Test cricket at the time.

VC "Pug" Shockman was one of the finest keepers of the pre-war years, until Ben Navaratne came along. Navaratne gave keeping a new dimension by standing up to the stumps, even to fast bowlers, which forced the batsman to divide his attention between bowler and keeper. Another exceptional keeper was Dr Herbert IK Fernando, who was once ranked the best in Asia at a time when India had Farokh Engineer and Pakistan, Imtiaz Ahmed. Then followed Ranjit Fernando, a flashy wicketkeeper who also opened the batting and played for Sri Lanka in the inaugural World Cup in 1975; the aggressive Russel Harmer, who played in the same era as Fernando; and Mahes Goonatilleke, who played in the pre- and post-Test eras and was good enough to easily top the jury's list. It is pity these excellent glovemen, apart from Goonatilleke, could not play Tests, for their skills, toughness and competitiveness would have matched those of the present generation of keepers.

Guy de Alwis, unusually tall for a wicketkeeper, standing over six feet; Brendon Kuruppu, the first wicketkeeper-batsman to score a double-hundred on Test debut; and Hashan Tillakaratne, who made his Test debut as a wicketkeeper-batsman, are some of the keepers of the Test era who narrowly missed out.

The contenders

Mahes Goonatilleke
Regarded by many as the finest Sri Lankan keeper ever. He was not only lightning fast but also tidy and possessed of excellent footwork. He could also bat and opened for his country in Tests. He played in his country's inaugural Test against England that year and appeared in only four more Tests and six one-day internationals, being banned by the authorities for undertaking a rebel tour of South Africa at the end of 1982.

Amal Silva
Silva was a wicketkeeper and left-handed batsman who played in nine Tests and 20 ODIs from 1983 to 1988. He and Guy de Alwis were in contention for the first-choice keeper's berth, and when the latter was injured for the tour of England in 1984, Silva seized his chance and scored a hundred at Lord's. He retained his place for the historic home Test series against India in 1985 and scored a career-best 111 and dismissed eight batsmen in the second Test, which turned out to be Sri Lanka's first Test and series win. He finished the series with 22 dismissals - a Sri Lankan record.

Romesh Kaluwitharana
He came to prominence for his explosive one-day opening partnership with Sanath Jayasuriya which helped Sri Lanka win the World Cup in 1996. He also scored a century on Test debut against Australia in 1992, and when he was promoted to open with Jayasuriya during the 1995-96 tour of Australia he responded with back-to-back fifties scored in double-quick time. He was a competent wicketkeeper but was marginalised once Kumar Sangakkara, who finally succeeded him, emerged on the scene.

Kumar Sangakkara
He began his career as a batsman but subsequently became a wicketkeeper. He then developed into a world-class No. 3 and the burden of juggling the two roles began to affect his batting, so in 2006 he gave up the Test gloves to Prasanna Jayawardene while continuing to keep in limited-overs cricket. But he is more often mentioned for his outstanding skills with the bat than with the gloves.

Prasanna Jayawardene
Goonatilleke once rated Jayawardene the best wicketkeeper Sri Lanka had had for some time. After he toured England in 1998 as a 19-year-old wicket-keeper-batsman, Jayawardene was considered a prospect for the national team, but the presence of Kaluwitharana and the emergence of Sangakkara meant Jayawardene's appearances were limited - until 2006, when the selectors decided that they needed to ease the burden on Sangakkara.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anishka on March 9, 2010, 20:38 GMT

    Basically what i'm saying is even though the first two may have been amazing, you cant compare them to the other 3. If we get a new wicket keeper and he has an AMAZING 5 match tour and plays better than any keeper we have seen, we will not pick him for the XI because he has played very few games

  • Anishka on March 9, 2010, 20:33 GMT

    Not trying to offend anybody but i see a lot of people talking about the cricket "greats" like Mahes and Amal Silva... I have never seen them play, but a few weeks ago when people were talking about dilshan and samaraweera they were saying how they cant be in the XI because they haven't played enough... amal silva played 9 games and Mahes played 5. Everyone keeps on saying that Prassana Jayawardene is one of the best wicketkeepers in the world but having said i dont think that there is much that he can do that Sanga and Kalu can't do. All three are good enough wicket-keepers. I selected kalu as he was a very concrete wicket keeper and he may not be a specialist test batsman but we cant forget that he was good enough to be succesful as an ODI batsman which makes me believe that if we needed an innings from the middle order, we would more likely get it from him then from prassana J. I definitely hope Sanga makes the team since he's easily my favorite player but not as a wicket keeper

  • aslam on March 9, 2010, 16:31 GMT

    my choice is going to be sanga coz hes a good batsmen too and then it gives the all time XI another slot recognized batsmen

  • Dasun on March 9, 2010, 14:14 GMT

    All these players are very good players and they are very good behind the wicket. but here we have to pick one. Romesh is very good with both bat and Glove. Prassanna is also good. But my choice is Sanga. Because he got talent as batsmen as well as wicket keeper.Nowadays teams need more skills. So Sanga will be my choice. Second choice will be Romesh.

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2010, 12:55 GMT

    I will select Mahes for his agility and energy in the field when he was keeping. He only played a handful of tests but the energy he bought to the field was amazing. Keeping is something you are borne with and not a trade to learn. Keeper should be selected base on keeping and then let him learn batting gradually. The mistake most teams make is to pick a batsman and try to teach him how to keep. I have seen international teams on the field with a batsman who keeps and it is easy to see the body language. Just observing the body language you can say they are going to loose the match on the first day of a test match. Successful teams in the world always have a great keeper because keeper is the most important position in the team. Keeper is the one who motivate and bring the energy in to the field with constant movement and encouragement to other fielders.

  • chandana on March 9, 2010, 12:48 GMT

    Said this before and I say it again; very few who make comments here have seen the "greats" in action. Further, we played very few tests in the formative decade or so and also the tour to SA deprived us of seeing the best in test era. Ruwan Perers has come up with some recent names (and i have played against Pubudu at school level). I wonder if he had the pleasure of seeing Sunil Jayasinghe and Hemantha Devapriya (to name but 2) in action in the local club scene. They were considered the giants of the colombo clubs but Mahesh Gunatillake was the king of the mountain coming from the hill country. Ranjith from Canada has seen some of the best of the past (lucky guy). Any one who knows a bit about the game and had the pleasure of seeing MG play would not look for another (though PJ comes in as the best of current lot). cheers

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2010, 10:56 GMT

    Sanaga >> It will give a better balance to the team and further it will ensure the team can either play an extra batsman or a bowler. Take Gilly for an exmple

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2010, 5:58 GMT

    For sure mahesh is the best wicket keeper with quality of keeping. But in long run with suppoting the evidences i have, i would like to select Prasanna jayawardena as my first choice. Mistakes are so rare from his side with compared to other world class wicket keepers in today screen .

    Comparative to Sanga, he is far ahead with keeping. also we need to have some good keeper for tests as rightly doing now. may be he will be having more competition in near future with the appaearence of all smart dinesh chadimal.

    but there are few wicket keepers who were in the screen for some time with our team. Chamara dunusinghe, pubudu dasanayake,lanka silva are some good names to recall with our test team. we have missed good names like rashan peris, Charith silvester in last few years due to non availability of a slot for a regular WK. it was funny some times to see Romesh K was replaced with Hashan for keeping duties about a decade back .

  • Dwight on March 9, 2010, 3:54 GMT

    strictly on the basis of choosing the best avaiable player it would be sanga, he is a capable wk and too great a batsmen.

  • Cameron on March 9, 2010, 3:05 GMT

    This is a really tough one. One of the toughest yet. The early two I have discounted only because all we can go on is word of mouth as even their first class records are next to nil. Can we seriously pick Sangakkara in this position? He is soon to play more Tests as a batsman. On that evidence we might as well pick Clyde Walcott as the keeper of the West Indies and I don't think anyone will do that. Kaluwitharana has a pretty good record at Tests and an excellent first class record. Questions on his keeping? So it seems. Jayawardene has a great Test record even if his first class is poorer. But no-one at least seems to question his keeping skill. That seems good enough, but for how much longer will he last in his career. It's always tough selecting an existing player when they may not even be half way through their career.

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