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