Wicketkeeper May 4, 2010

Stumped for choice?

A modern great, a complete package, a natural, and a fighter feature in our wicketkeeper shortlist for Pakistan

For large tracts of their history Pakistan have not really had to worry about the man behind the stumps. Imtiaz Ahmed wasn't Pakistan's first wicketkeeper - Hanif Mohammad had the gloves for the first three Tests - but he became a calming presence in those first years and into the early 60s.

Through the 70s and mid-80s, Wasim Bari towered above all others, nearly unchallenged, except for a brief period by the late Taslim Arif. In the 90s came a feisty battle between Moin Khan and Rashid Latif, and since 2004, Kamran Akmal has been in sole custody. If opening, to cite one example, has been a migraine, then wicketkeeping has never been more than a very mild headache; and very rarely at that.

Pakistan's many selectors, in fact, have traditionally been loath to chop and change with their keepers. None of the most successful glovemen, from Bari to Moin to Latif to Akmal, have been immune to criticism or calls for their axing at various stages; yet more often than not selectors have refused to tinker. An atypical stability is to be found in this department, so much so that all the names nominated in this list have captained Pakistan - captaincy being reward more often than not for seniority and longevity - and not just as stop-gap appointees.

The demands of modern-day wicketkeeping have changed. What you do with the smaller gloves is now as important, maybe even more. None of these nominees are mugs with the bat, but that probably the best pure batsman of the lot, Akmal, has been overlooked suggests Pakistan would still rather have a man who can first and foremost hold on to the ball. Akmal has more international hundreds - 11 - than all the others on this list put together, but his increasingly unsafe work behind the stumps is a heavy price to pay in Tests. And in reality, as the nominations below show, Pakistan have been blessed with good wicketkeepers who could also hold their own with the bat.

The contenders

Wasim Bari
Still considered by many to be the finest wicketkeeper Pakistan has had. Mostly he was very safe but also always able to pull off the spectacular. He was as comfortable against Imran Khan's prodigious swing - the most difficult bowler he kept to, he says - as he was to Abdul Qadir's spin. So good was he, in fact, that at his peak in 1978, he went through an entire three-Test series against England without conceding a single bye. Amid the great modern keepers - Rodney Marsh, Jeffrey Dujon, Alan Knott, Bob Taylor - Bari's name does not seem out of place. He was a sturdier bat than his average indicates.

Imtiaz Ahmed
Imtiaz was an integral half of Pakistan's earliest, most potent combination: c Imtiaz b Fazal. He wasn't a specialist wicketkeeper but made do, getting by on as few errors as possible. He preferred safety to showmanship and only took up the gloves again (he had given up after being hit in the eye in 1951) because Hanif was struggling. As a package, though, he was ahead of his time, opening the batting and hooking and pulling the best fast bowlers. Omar Kureishi thought him one of the best batsmen Pakistan produced, "a simple man who believed a long hop was a long hop, even if the bowler was Fred Trueman". He was the first wicketkeeper to hit a Test double, and on the 1954 tour of England very nearly became the only tourist to complete the unique double of 1000 runs and 100 victims.

Rashid Latif
In many eyes Latif is the most naturally gifted wicketkeeper Pakistan have had, ahead even of Bari. He didn't play enough Tests to warrant a decisive verdict but certainly very few have made wicketkeeping appear as effortless and clean a discipline as Latif did. No Pakistani has been as stretched and agile in his diving. Against spin, in particular, he was swift on the take. And though Moin Khan, great rival and good friend, was probably the better batsman, Latif actually averages fractionally higher. As a debut fifty at The Oval showed, he was as stylish with the bat as with the gloves.

Moin Khan
Not as clean as others, and prone to errors, but if this were a vote for spirit, bravery and pure guts-out fight, Moin would win hands down. He worked harder than most on his keeping, turning himself from an ordinary one into one fit for international cricket, and on his days he could be very sharp. The heart was most evident in his batting, however, which gave Pakistan real grit and explosiveness down the order. He could win a game with the bat, save it, or counterattack, as shown in his 70 to win a Test when Pakistan were 26 for 6 in Kolkata, or his Test-best 137 in Hamilton.

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

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo

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