August 29, 2014

Can keep, can bat

The modern wicketkeeper needs to be more than capable with the bat, and West Indies and Pakistan have had some success with them recently

Denesh Ramdin has scored 405 runs in his four ODI innings and averages 42.36 in his last 17 Tests, with three times as many hundreds as he scored in his first 42 Tests © AFP

Till a few decades ago, not too many teams were bothered about the batting skills of their wicketkeepers. Their primary function was to do a clean job behind the stumps and take all the catches that came their way; the runs they scored was a bonus. That's the logic that allowed wicketkeepers like Wasim Bari and Bob Taylor the opportunity to play more than 50 Tests despite batting averages of less than 17.

In today's age of the multi-skilled cricketer, it's highly unlikely that any wicketkeeper with batting skills of that nature would be allowed such a long international stint. The decade-wise batting numbers for wicketkeepers in both Tests and ODIs have undergone significant change, as is evident from the tables below.

In Tests, the big difference came in the 2000s, which was the first decade in which the average for wicketkeepers topped 30. In the 1990s, the average was similar to that of the 1970s, but Adam Gilchrist (and, to a lesser extent, Andy Flower) changed the rules of the game. There were 65 centuries scored by wicketkeepers in the 2000s, more than twice the number in the previous decade, while the rate of scoring one improved from one every 36 innings in the '90s to one every 23 innings, an improvement of 36%. So far in the 2010s, the average has further improved to 34.35, and the century rate to one every 19 innings, thanks to the likes of Matt Prior, MS Dhoni, BJ Watling, Mushfiqur Rahim and Denesh Ramdin.

In ODIs, the change in the last two-and-a-half decades has been even more dramatic. In the 1980s, wicketkeepers averaged 18.62 runs per wicket, and scored one century in 754 attempts. (Zimbabwe's Dave Houghton made an unforgettable 142 in the 1987 World Cup against New Zealand.) Since the beginning of 2010, they've averaged 34.42, an improvement of 85%. The overall ODI average for all batsmen during this period has gone up only marginally, from 26.43 in the 1980s to 28.71 since the beginning of 2010. Clearly, teams have sought more from their glovemen over the years, and the players have adapted accordingly.

Decade-wise batting stats for wicketkeepers in Tests since 1950
Decade Tests Inngs Average 100s/ 50s
1950s 164 505 20.60 10/ 39
1960s 186 588 23.59 12/ 59
1970s 198 624 27.29 11/ 84
1980s 266 773 23.63 14/ 63
1990s 347 1086 27.28 30/ 126
2000s 464 1490 31.81 65/ 207
2010s 193 635 34.35 34/ 107
Decade-wise batting stats for wicketkeepers in ODIs
Decade Inngs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
1970s 118 18.17 61.37 1/ 6
1980s 754 18.62 67.77 1/ 35
1990s 1500 23.70 72.64 14/ 129
2000s 2413 29.53 77.42 48/ 322
2010s 1053 34.42 81.65 40/ 174

While the general trend has been of wicketkeepers getting more productive with the bat, some teams haven't been a part of this trend in the last few years. In the period between 2010 and 2013, Pakistan's keepers averaged 18.32 in 34 Tests, which was a throwback to the Wasim Bari era. (Except that, unlike Bari, many of these keepers weren't even so solid behind the stumps.) That average of 18.32 was easily the worst among all teams during those four years, and Pakistan were the only team to play more than ten Tests without a single century from their wicketkeeper in that period.

In 2014, though, Pakistan have found someone who, on early evidence, suggests he can turn it around for them. Sarfraz Ahmed hasn't played many Tests, so a full verdict on him must wait. However, in the four Tests he has played this year, Sarfraz has looked the part, scoring 399 runs in eight innings against Sri Lanka, at an average of 57. He has also scored his runs quickly, and his 103 against Sri Lanka in Colombo earlier this month was the first century by a Pakistan wicketkeeper since Kamran Akmal's unbeaten 158 against the same opponents in February 2009. Sarfraz also has eight centuries in 101 first-class matches (including the Tests), but against teams other than Sri Lanka in Tests, he has scored 89 runs in eight innings. On current evidence, he should get plenty of opportunities to improve upon those numbers.

Even with those stats for 2014, though, Pakistan's Test numbers are still the worst among all teams since 2010, because of their four poor years before the current one.

Team-wise batting stats for wicketkeepers in Tests since Jan 2010
Team Tests Inngs Runs Average 100s/ 50s
South Africa 41 60 2578 46.03 6/ 13
Bangladesh 22 40 1494 39.31 2/ 9
England 59 90 2958 38.92 5/ 19
India 50 82 2697 35.96 3/ 17
New Zealand 38 67 2004 35.15 5/ 10
Sri Lanka 41 65 1931 33.87 5/ 7
Australia 50 88 2539 32.55 4/ 17
West Indies 36 58 1409 28.18 3/ 5
Zimbabwe 11 22 488 23.23 0/ 2
Pakistan 38 63 1315 23.07 1/ 8

Another team which struggled to get runs from their wicketkeeper - till fairly recently - was West Indies. Ramdin has been around in international cricket for almost a decade now, but after a promising start, there was a long period when his batting had faded badly. In his first 42 Tests, Ramdin's Test average was 22.80, quite poor by today's standards, and it wasn't a surprise when he was replaced by Carlton Baugh. West Indies would have expected more runs from him, but in the 16 Tests he played between 2010 and 2012, Baugh did even worse, scoring 414 runs in 26 innings at 17.25. That might have sufficed a few decades ago, but not today.

West Indies returned to Ramdin, and in the last couple of years that faith has been repaid quite handsomely. In his last 17 Tests, Ramdin has averaged 42.36; in 27 innings during this period, he has scored three hundreds (including one which was followed by a not-so-smart retort at Viv Richards); in his first 73 innings he had one.

In these last two years, he is West Indies' third-highest run-scorer in Tests, after Shinarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels, and only Chanderpaul has scored more Test hundreds. His average of 42.36 is third among wicketkeepers who've batted at least 15 innings during this period, after AB de Villiers (average 63.37 in Tests when he has kept wicket) and Mushfiqur Rahim (43.31). When Ramdin was dropped from the team, he averaged less than 23 in 42 Tests; in just 17 Tests he has lifted his career average by nearly five runs.

Denesh Ramdin's Test career
Period Tests Inngs Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Till 2011 42 73 1482 22.80 1/ 8
2012 onwards 17 27 932 42.36 3/ 3
Career 59 100 2414 27.74 4/ 11

However, what's brought the focus upon Ramdin more recently are his ODI exploits: in his last four innings - one against England, three against Bangladesh - Ramdin has scores of 128, 74, 34, 169. That's 405 runs at an average of 101.25, and 34% of the runs he scored in his first 80 ODI innings. Before these four innings, Ramdin averaged 19.88 in 80 ODI innings; after 84, his career average has gone up to 24.96, an increase of five runs in just four games.

Denesh Ramdin's ODI career
Period Inngs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
First 108 matches 80 1193 19.88 74.84 0/ 3
Last 4 matches 4 405 101.25 113.44 2/ 1
Career 84 1598 24.96 81.90 2/ 4

Those two hundreds by Ramdin are the first by any West Indian wicketkeeper in ODIs; in fact, he is only 336 runs away from equaling the West Indian record for most ODI runs by a wicketkeeper - Jeff Dujon has 1934 runs in 118 innings.

West Indies have had several great aspects to their cricket over the years, but a wicketkeeper who scores plenty of runs isn't one of them. In the entire history of ODIs, their wicketkeepers average 21.54, which is the lowest among all teams (with a 100-innings cut-off). They've managed only two hundreds, which is the joint-lowest, along with Bangladesh - even Kenyan wicketkeepers have more (three). In Tests, West Indian wicketkeepers have a poorer average than all teams except New Zealand.

Despite Ramdin's recent exploits, they're also at the bottom of the ODI pile since the beginning of 2010. If he plays a few more innings like the ones he has been playing recently, Ramdin might just lift West Indies from that last slot.

Team-wise batting stats for wicketkeepers in ODIs since Jan 2010
Team Inngs Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
South Africa 77 3519 53.31 95.59 13/ 14
Sri Lanka 125 5446 49.50 82.22 10/ 38
India 109 3583 47.77 86.46 3/ 25
New Zealand 74 2041 32.39 93.02 2/ 11
Bangladesh 75 2019 30.59 71.49 2/ 11
Zimbabwe 60 1709 30.51 69.89 0/ 15
England 84 2167 29.68 101.68 1/ 11
Pakistan 92 2142 28.18 83.93 1/ 12
Australia 99 2395 26.91 74.37 1/ 13
West Indies 79 1693 24.89 75.74 2/ 4

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