May 18, 2012

A tale of two wicketkeepers

England have had a superb wicketkeeper-batsman for most of their last five years, but West Indies have been struggling to find someone who can score runs

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.

Wicketkeeper-batsmen for each team since May 17, 2007
Team Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
England 63 3205 40.56 7/ 22
India 59 3000 35.71 4/ 22
Australia 57 2980 35.47 4/ 14
New Zealand 39 2090 33.70 4/ 10
Sri Lanka 45 1896 31.60 4/ 6
South Africa 46 1686 29.57 1/ 10
Bangladesh 29 1504 29.49 1/ 9
Zimbabwe 4 232 29.00 0/ 2
Pakistan 37 1573 28.08 2/ 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.

Wicketkeeper-batsmen for each team in Tests since 1960
Team Players Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Zimbabwe 4 87 5970 43.57 13/ 34
South Africa 7 229 8873 29.77 10/ 56
Australia 18 497 19,671 29.09 29/ 89
Sri Lanka 17 212 8857 28.85 18/ 29
England 23 562 21,494 28.35 25/ 111
India 23 398 14,715 27.76 14/ 78
Pakistan 21 338 11,473 25.95 13/ 56
New Zealand 19 319 11,204 25.52 11/ 48
West Indies 17 402 13,552 24.68 11/ 71
Bangladesh 4 73 2985 23.69 2/ 13

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.)

West Indian wicketkeepers who've scored 500+ Test runs since 1960
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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.

England wicketkeepers who've scored 500+ Test runs since 1960
Batsman Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
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
All stats exclude the ongoing Lord's Test

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on May 21, 2012, 21:25 GMT

    I agree with Chris_p completely about the fact that a sub standard keeper no matter how good a batsmen overall could end up costing you more than an average batsmen who is an excellent keeper. I have watched a few of the West Indies wicket keepers over the years and currently reall they have Ramdin and Baugh of whom I think Ramdin is better with the bat and Baugh maybe slightly better with the gloves but I think Ramdin is a better batsmen by a wider margin than Baugh is a better keeper if that makes sense. The other option which does not seem to have been explored if they are intent on the keepr being a batsmen is that of Lendl Simmons who is an occasional keeper who has been batting well in the ODI's but I think he is injuredat the moment, why not ask him if he fancies the job they gave Andre Fletcher a go at it and in my opinion Simmons is a better batsmen but had a brief go and struggled but has improved since then in terms of his batting and with coaching could develop his keeping.

  • R on May 19, 2012, 6:41 GMT

    Overall, Ramdhin & Dereck Murray have a comparable batting record. The difference is Murray followed Greenidge, Haynes, Richards, Lloyd etc . From the present line up, only Chanderpaul would have stood a chance of getting into this line up. The problem is wicket keepers being selected first for batting skills has really taken off following Gilchrist's success. Earlier teams focused on getting the best keeper like Knott or Matsh or Wasim Bari or Murray or Kirmani. Satish Boddu's comment reflects the fact that Zimbabwe have had only 4 keepers as their entry into test arena is fairly recent. Besides, Flower, who was good enough to walk into any test team purely as a batsman, Tabu is also one of their frontline batsman.

  • Michael on May 18, 2012, 22:09 GMT

    If the WI Board had followed Reds Perreras' advice ,my and others advice a while back,all like now Lendl Simmons would have graduated from being a one day keeper into a test keeper batting at #7 with a license to play his shots or defend as the need arises,and an opening batsman in the one days.Right now Simmons talent is lost at the test level due to the presence of people like Baugh and Ramdin.

  • Dummy4 on May 18, 2012, 17:29 GMT

    Is the Zimbabwean Wicket Keepers high because of Andy Flower? Were the previous W.Keepers as good as him??

  • EMAD on May 18, 2012, 17:01 GMT

    well this is not only for West Indies Pakistan is also a victim of the wicket keepers like kamran akmal and company(umar and adnan)

  • Michael on May 18, 2012, 16:27 GMT

    "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". Well, four of those five players played much of their careers alongside Jeff Dujon, who was a more than handy bat, so there was hardly a 'lack' of runs from the wicketkeeper in those days; instead the West Indies were simply better off in every respect

  • Peter on May 18, 2012, 9:27 GMT

    It's very interesting, but the important point is being missed. When selecting superior batsmen over pure keeping skills, how many catches have these replacements droppped that have cost the team a bucketful of runs? I have had the privelege of seeing some great keepers over the years, guys like Wasim Bari just didn't miss chances, even though his batting wasn't great. Alan Knott was superb, but Bob Taylor probably shaded Knott as a gloveman, but such was Knott's class, that he was far above a head of almost any other keeper around. As great a keeper batsman as Gilly was, many Aussiees believed Chuck Berry & even Tim Nielson were more accomplished with the gloves, bit in Gilly's case, his batting was another level. If the batsmen do their jobs, really, you don't need your keeper at that level. Just mpov.

  • Dummy4 on May 18, 2012, 7:40 GMT

    WI have had three 'keepers with the surname Murray? Odd.

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