A tale of two wicketkeepers
Exactly five years before the start of this season's international summer in England, Matt Prior made his Test debut. On May 17, 2007, against West Indies at Lord's, Prior played his first Test match and immediately announced himself to the world with an Adam Gilchrist-like knock - 126 not out off 128 balls - which completely destroyed West Indies' resistance after three England batsmen had already scored hundreds before him. Five years later, to the day, as Prior starts another series against the same team at the same venue, he'll feel secure in the knowledge that he has added significant value to the team during this period. His glovework wasn't the best initially but he has improved significantly, while his work in front of the stumps has added a whole new dimension to England's lower-order batting.
While England have found a reliable wicketkeeper and stuck with him, West Indies go into this series hoping that Denesh Ramdin will justify the faith that they have reposed in him. During these five years, West Indies have struggled to find wicketkeepers who could also contribute usefully with the bat: Ramdin's played 28 Tests during these five years and was the first-choice wicketkeeper till a couple of years ago, but he averaged only 21.04 during this period. That forced the selectors to look elsewhere, and while Carlton Baugh, his replacement, was largely faultless behind the stumps, his returns with the bat were even more disappointing - in 16 Tests he averaged 17.25, and in his last 13 innings he had a highest score of 30.
Thanks to those ordinary numbers, the overall average for West Indian wicketkeepers in the last five years is 18.76. (Remember, there was also a wicketkeeper called Chadwick Walton, who played two Tests against Bangladesh and scored all of 13 runs in four innings.) That average of 18.76 is easily the lowest among all teams in Tests during this period - the next-lowest is Pakistan, and their wicketkeepers have averaged almost ten runs more. England, meanwhile, have got more than twice the number of runs from their wicketkeepers compared to West Indies. So while the top-order batting and bowling are the obvious areas where West Indies appear outmatched, the batting contribution of their wicketkeeper is another area where they've fallen woefully short.
|New Zealand||39||2090||33.70||4/ 10|
|Sri Lanka||45||1896||31.60||4/ 6|
|South Africa||46||1686||29.57||1/ 10|
|West Indies||45||1332||18.76||1/ 6|
The table above shows that West Indian wicketkeepers have struggled with the bat over the last five years, but even going back a little further than that, batting has seldom been a forte for West Indian keepers. The table below confirms that: looking at stats all the way from 1960 till date, West Indies and Bangladesh are the only teams whose wicketkeepers have averaged less than 25.
Bangladesh's numbers aren't surprising, but the stats for West Indies indicate that they've always relied on their specialist batsmen for their runs: during the same period (1960 onwards), West Indies' top six average 38.85, which puts them in fifth place, and better than Pakistan, England and New Zealand. However, their wicketkeepers have generally been less than prolific with the bat. In the days gone by, with batting line-ups that included Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Richardson and Lloyd, the lack of runs from the wicketkeeper didn't matter much, but with the batting riches not quite so plentiful now, West Indies will want more runs from their keepers.
|South Africa||7||229||8873||29.77||10/ 56|
|Sri Lanka||17||212||8857||28.85||18/ 29|
|New Zealand||19||319||11,204||25.52||11/ 48|
|West Indies||17||402||13,552||24.68||11/ 71|
Among the eight West Indian wicketkeepers who've scored more than 500 runs since 1960, only one - Gerry Alexander - has an average of more than 40. (Alexander averaged 30.03 over his entire career, but during the period in question, he averaged 42.28 in ten Tests.) Jeff Dujon was a top-class wicketkeeper-batsman who averaged 31.46 - and was a better batsman than those numbers suggest - while Ridley Jacobs was pretty effective too, but the others had pretty ordinary numbers. The current wicketkeeper, Ramdin, is bunched together with a few others who averaged in the early 20s, but he has the highest score among all of them, 166, and the second-highest among all West Indian wicketkeepers ever. (Only Clyde Walcott, with an unbeaten 168, has scored more.)
|Jeff Dujon||79||3146||31.46||5/ 16|
|Ridley Jacobs||65||2577||28.31||3/ 14|
|Deryck Murray||62||1993||22.90||0/ 11|
|Denesh Ramdin||42||1482||22.80||1/ 8|
|Junior Murray||31||853||23.05||1/ 3|
|David Murray||19||601||21.46||0/ 3|
|Gerry Alexander||10||592||42.28||1/ 5|
|Carlton Baugh||20||587||18.34||0/ 3|
England, on the other hand, have had a few wicketkeepers who've also been more-than-competent batsmen. Alec Stewart averaged almost 35 in the Tests he played as a wicketkeeper, during an era when there were several great bowlers in world cricket. Alan Knott was a more-than-useful batsman too, with five centuries and 30 fifties in 149 innings. In this era of top-class wicketkeeper-batsmen, though, Prior has set a benchmark as one of the best England have ever had. Now, if only West Indies could find someone of that class too.
|Alec Stewart||82||4540||34.92||6/ 23|
|Alan Knott||95||4389||32.75||5/ 30|
|Matt Prior||53||2758||43.09||6/ 19|
|Jack Russell||54||1897||27.10||2/ 6|
|Jim Parks||43||1876||32.34||2/ 9|
|Geraint Jones||34||1172||23.91||1/ 6|
|Bob Taylor||57||1156||16.28||0/ 3|
|Paul Downton||30||785||19.62||0/ 4|
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter