Wicketkeeper August 23, 2010

The multi-taskers

Indian wicketkeepers have always been encouraged to be many-skilled. Three of five in this list have scored centuries, and one holds the record for the most stumpings in an innings

In the years when there were at least three claimants for the wicketkeeper's slot in the Indian team, I suggested that such riches were due to the "squatting" style of emptying the bowels in India. Crouching low with intense concentration prepares those with wicketkeeping ambitions. The writer Ramachandra Guha expanded on that theme, saying that such training was ideal for keeping to spinners.

Jokes aside, the fact remains that India, whose spinners, allrounders, batsmen and fast bowlers can take their place among the best in the world, have not produced a world-class wicketkeeper who would walk into any team for his keeping skills alone. This is partly due to the belief that has gained by repetition: that a single skill is one too few. Long before the Dutch conceived of total football, India had already thrown their weight behind total cricket. Generalists were encouraged from the start - it wasn't enough if you kept wicket, you had to contribute with the bat too.

Wicketkeepers were also expected to open innings; the theory being that the reflexes needed behind the stumps were the same that could take on fast bowling in front of them. Few Indian wicketkeepers have escaped the opening slot. Syed Kirmani is a significant exception. He has batted in every other position.

Five wicketkeepers did duty in India's first 11 Tests, and Dilawar Hussain became the first in the world to score fifties and top-score in each innings.

The best of them in the pre-Tamhane era, Probir Sen and Nana Joshi, didn't have great batting records, although interestingly the former did have a first-class hat-trick for Bengal. It was seven decades before Ajay Ratra became the first regular wicketkeeper to make a century abroad (Vijay Manjrekar had kept wicket and scored a century in the West Indies earlier).

Manjrekar, Lala Amarnath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Rahul Dravid have all kept wicket when the regular keeper has been injured, or in the interests of team balance.

Indian wicketkeepers fall into two groups - the quietly efficient like Joshi, Naren Tamhane, Indrajitsinhji, and later Krishnamurthy, Kirmani and Kiran More, or the flamboyant like Farokh Engineer and Budhi Kunderan. Keeping to the spinners has been the real test.

The candidates

Naren Tamhane
Probably summed up best by Sujit Mukherjee who said that "he never attempted the impossible, but seldom missed the possible opportunity". The Subhash Gupte-Tamhane combination accounted for 18 victims, more than a third of Tamhane's 51 in 21 Tests. The Mumbai keeper, the first to 100 dismissals in the Ranji Trophy, was also the first to earn relative permanency in the position for India, taking over from the specialist Joshi and handing over to the better batsman Kunderan. A stumping by this classical keeper meant just a single bail disturbed.

Syed Kirmani
After serving a long apprenticeship to Engineer, he took over and in his second Test equalled the world record for the most dismissals in an innings. Kirmani, acknowledged by the spinners Prasanna, Bedi, Venkat and Chandra as the one who kept best to them, was in charge when that era ended and the Kapil Dev era began. He belonged to the "seen-but-not-heard" school, was particularly adept at leg-side collections, and over his 88 Tests (198 dismissals) held most Indian keeping records, including that of having made a century as a night-watchman.

Kiran More
The quietest and most successful among the threesome (Chandrakant Pandit and Sadanand Vishwanath being the others) who held fort in the decade following the mid-1980s. His figures in 49 Tests are second only to Kirmani's. Holds the world record for the most stumpings in an innings and in a match, five and six respectively in the famous "Hirwani" Test against the West Indies when the bowler claimed 16 wickets on debut.

Nayan Mongia
Aggressive behind the stumps and calm in front of it, Mongia was the best in his time, but it was a short time and perhaps he did not live up to his full potential. Was comfortable keeping to the spearhead of India's bowling, Anil Kumble. A memorable 152 opening the batting ensured a win over Australia in Delhi.

MS Dhoni
In many ways Dhoni is a work in progress, but what work and what progress indeed! Unorthodox either side of the wicket, he was criticised initially for his technical shortcomings, but a big heart and a cool head resolved that problem. There were better keepers in India when he started out, but now that may no longer be true, and there are certainly no better batsmen-wicketkeepers. Dhoni's is a triple role as keeper, batsman and captain in all three formats of the game. A true allrounder.

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

Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • sridevi on August 24, 2010, 8:09 GMT

    dhoni is not better in keeping for kumble or bhajji in tracks tht turn..Mongia is better in it.But all-time great will definetely be Kirmani.

  • D on August 24, 2010, 5:26 GMT

    "Fanboyism for dhoni is perplexing"! Go watch the youtube video of Dhoni vs Shoaib Akhtar - the 20 run over. In a test match. What on earth is 'perplexing' about a test average slightly better than Vishwanath, Ganguly? And don't even get me started on his ODI performance. There is another youtube video of him and Yuvraj chasing down 288 against Pak - look and see Asif going for 6,4,4 in one over to Dhoni. This guy is so much more valuable than Kirmani, no disrespect and a lot of affection to Kiri.

  • D on August 24, 2010, 5:17 GMT

    @harshalb: since you are beating up so much on Kumble, let me respond. You asked one instance when he turned the match on a batting track. One off the top of my head is the 2004 test match against pak at multan. Ind 675/5, pak 407 & 216, Kumble 6/71 in the 2nd innings totally changed the complexion of the game which seemed to be a dead draw on a flat track.

    I don't know what your problem is with Kumble and Harbhajan. Given they are the #1 and #3 wicket taking bowlers for us, it makes me wonder if you are just a troll.

  • Riju on August 24, 2010, 5:07 GMT

    for all you all Dhoni fans.....dis is nawt 1day or 2020 poll

    20 years from now when this poll is again conducted, if Dhoni has improved in tests and steered India through with greater sustained success then he will be the one.....until then he is still work in progress....and for all those who think he is a great leader and captain.....perhaps you are not watcihng the drubbing we are getting in SL or missed the 2020 WC where his captaincy with bowling changes and field placement was atrocious. India's best captain was also its best pacer and best all-rounder, yes, you guessed it, Kapil.

  • Harshal on August 24, 2010, 3:43 GMT

    @Bryan999, I love your naivity. I will keep this short just to answer your questions. 1) Let me remind you that wWe are selecting a wicketkeeper NOT a batsman. On pure wicketkeeping skills, Dhoni does not stand a chance. PERIOD. I should re-state that Dhoni fails as a batsman when the conditions are even for bowlers. 2) Regarding Kumble - spinless, you are right to mention the number of his wickets but I will remind you of 3 factors. One- the number of test matches he played. Two- the nature of the wickets (tailor made, dustbowls). Three- runs per wicket. Four- performance abroad. India was playing cricket much before the 90s and I can give you atleast three bowlers who were FAAAR better than Kumble - Gupte, Prasanna, Chandra. Since you are a statistics obsessed person, please let me know ONE instance when Kumble turned a match on a good batting track. I am waiting. 3) Regarding Bhajji, I will change my words from 'wicketless' to 'ordinary'. Obvious fact so I am not even explaining.

  • bhushan on August 24, 2010, 3:41 GMT

    Fanboyism for dhoni is perplexing, just lke the absence of Farook enginner from the shortlist. Look at DHoni's average outside the subcontinent, pathetic.... He flopped in the last AUS tour and played what must be called one of the most shockign shot while facing daryl sten during ahmedabad test match (under captain Kumble).

    His keep is average to say the least...he has dropped catches, missed stumping (you don't have to go far, just look at his keeping performance in the recent SL tour).

    More imp, why do we even need a WK batsman, when we have such a strong batting line up? Baffles me....I will go for kirmani...i rather have a atheletic, brilliant keeper than an ordinary keeper with above avg batting stats. We are picking a test team here folks..

  • anik on August 24, 2010, 2:44 GMT

    did any one see now in bowling friendly pitches how dhoni is batting and his avg. he is much overhyped. If this is ODI team I would pick Dhoni. But this is test team as gavaskar, vissi, and marchent is there. as per AVG prior has better avg than knott and dhoni ten agree that he is better than viswanath and tramper as his AVG is better. Common man have some cricket sence before comments. He needs to bat against akram, waq, lille, larwood, marshal, warne, hadlee. he must bee good in tech not a slambang player. kirmani for me and people dont remember mongia aslo oppened and showed tech, against aus he scored 150 oppening in tests he was the partner with sachin in the both famous matches in sarjah. mongia is also more reliable wk than dhoni. dhoni is picked because of his batting and I believe one day he will give up keeping and play as batsman only as his keeping is not good. dhoni never kept againg Kumble or in form harbhajan on turning tracks. how can he be a good wk???

  • Milind on August 24, 2010, 2:39 GMT

    No No Mongia & Dhoni...Engineer & Nana Joshi should have been in...Nana was the best ever keeper India had but he misses out to Kirmani only on account of having less intl exposure...

  • Dummy4 on August 24, 2010, 1:40 GMT

    My choice is always The current Indian Skipper and World No 1 batsmen in one days at the moment M S Dhoni.

  • B on August 23, 2010, 22:48 GMT

    I wonder if this jury has inhaled too much of the smog of Delhi and Mumbai - no Engineer?!!! The guy who held his own in 2 World XIs (1970 and 1971-72) alongside Murray - someone who was the kingpin for the famed close-in fielders of Solkar, Venkat, Wadekar and himself, who could hold up to the famed spin quartet, and finally who could, in English County cricket, manage the pace and swing of Lever and Ward. And not to mention his batting against Hall and Griffith and then Roberts and Co. - Enginner's fault - he was a wicketkeeper-batsman - had he been a poorer batsman, well, he may have made this cut - first we have to endure one set of selectors completely exclude the 3 Ws out of WI, and now this comical bunch who think they are competent to select an Indian XI - as third rate a bunch as India's selectors themselves.

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