Jeff Dujon on the change in wicketkeeping attitudes May 22, 2006

'Cricket is about scoring runs'

Long before the likes of Gilchrist, Akmal and Dhoni, Jeffrey Dujon was an accomplished wicketkeeper-batsman who crafted five Test centuries in addition to his 272 dismissals

A child prodigy who learnt to love the game after weekend visits to the Kingston Club with his father, Peter Jeffrey Leroy Dujon represented the West Indies with distinction for 10 years, taking 267 catches and affecting five stumpings in his 81 Tests. And long before the likes of Gilchrist, Akmal and Dhoni, he was an accomplished batsman who crafted five Test centuries, bailing out the side on the rare occasions when the mighty batting order had a poor day. Siddhartha Vaidyanathan caught up with him in Jamaica to chat about those days of Caribbean domination, and of how batting skill is edging out keeping ability in the modern game.



Dujon was renowned for his athleticism behind the stumps © Getty Images

Is wicketkeeping losing out because of batting?

I think wicketkeeping has suffered. The best wicketkeepers aren't in the Test team because balance is so important, allround abilities are so important that teams will settle for a good wicketkeeper who can make a 50-60, maybe 100, as opposed to an excellent wicketkeeper who's probably good for 15 or 20. So the focus has shifted from a technician more to a competent wicketkeeper who can bat. I think the advent of the batting-wicketkeeper has been one of the big factors in raising the average score in one-day and Test match cricket.

Tell us something about the fast bowlers you kept to?

Each was unique in his own right. Someone like Michael Holding - apart from his sheer pace, one of his attributes was that he didn't pound the ball into the wicket and it tended to gather pace once it pitched. That was something that the batsman, and sometimes I, didn't expect. Towards the end of his career, when he dropped a bit in pace, he tended to use the seam a lot better and get a lot of movement off the wicket and through the air, which prolonged his career.

Andy Roberts was more crafty, a very good assessor of batsmen. He had a good change of pace and could set batsmen up. By just looking at them, he knew how he could get them out. He was very deceptive and you never knew what he was thinking.

Joel Garner - tall man, got the ball to bounce closer to the batsman, which is very awkward, and had a very good yorker. He didn't swing the ball much but he got the ball to move off the seam. At that pace and that bounce, it could be very awkward.

Curtly Ambrose was probably the epitome of accuracy. He would just put the ball down in front of you and get it to do something off the seam. But he was very steady. He didn't go for many runs and was very patient and had a very good yorker - tall man, coming from that height it isn't easy to play.

Courtney Walsh was a workhorse. He put in the overs, he could bowl all day. But in my mind, the best of the lot was Malcolm Marshall. He was the embodiment of them all, he had the full package. And he was an excellent assessor of situations and batsmen, and would bowl appropriately. A look at the number of wickets he took in India is an indication of how capable a fast bowler he was.

If it's a toss up between wicketkeeping skills and batting skills, it's a logical choice - cricket is about scoring runs

What advice would you give a young keeper today?

In the modern game, the stakes are very high. For youngsters coming up as keepers now, it's important to get their batting to a certain level of competence. If it's a toss up between wicketkeeping skills and batting skills, it's a logical choice - cricket is about scoring runs. I would now opt for team balance, preferably with a wicketkeeper who can bat in the top 6. I would go for a better batsman.

So would you say you were probably in the side because of your batting talents?

We always played four fast bowlers, so having a wicketkeeper who could bat anywhere between 3 and 7 added a bit of balance. It meant you had an extra batsman. At that time, we didn't need an extra bowler. It made logical sense to have me - it gave us the balance we needed. At No.8, we had Marshall who could also bat a bit. We had balance for the kind of cricket we played.

Gilchrist, Dhoni, Baugh ...

Gilchrist is primarily a batsman, but he can fulfil both roles and average so much. His wicketkeeping, I think, is competent but in terms of the wicketkeepers around I would be an average wicketkeeper. I have not seen a whole lot of Dhoni - mainly one-day cricket. He seems to be someone who has the kind of blend that you want because he can change a game very quickly with his batting, and his wicketkeeping also reflects that. In terms of team balance and team spirit, you need people like this who can make things happen. And he is the kind who can do that. Baugh took up keeping late. At school, he didn't keep, he bowled legspin. He has the temperament to play at the highest level.

How much does it hurt to see West Indies lose regularly?

It's a big disappointment. It's something that evokes different emotions - disappointment because of the performance, anger at how it came about and frustration with the inability of the officials to correct it.

Would you say you were the one who set the benchmarks when it came to the batting of wicketkeepers?

It started with Rod Marsh, who was probably the first wicketkeeper who had the ability to change a game with the bat. I was one of the first too, but you have to understand that I was primarily a batsman. Had I not chosen to keep wicket, I would have been competing with a higher-order batsman for a place. I developed as a Test keeper by virtue of playing at that level for so long. It got better as time went on. When I started, I was very basic but I adapted to the bowling that I had to face. I was primarily a batsman - I never kept wicket for my club even when I was playing Test cricket. And I only kept wicket for Jamaica the same year I made the West Indies team. Obviously, I was a batsman who could keep.



'Viv was absolutely awesome' © Getty Images

How was it batting at the other end when Viv [Richards] was taking strike?

Oh, it was the best place to be. You just wanted to take a single and watch him. He's the most dominant batsman I have ever seen. He was absolutely awesome. He had everything - power, timing, perfect balance, and he was so confident. He's the only batsman I've ever seen that, as soon as a wicket fell and he went to bat, cover took a few steps back, point stepped back, the field spread a bit out. I have never seen that before. And it used to happen very often.

Did your batting suffer because of your keeping??

Yes, in that I didn't devote too much time to it as my career went on. Also, my hands took a beating. After a while, I'd be batting and it would be difficult to hold on to the bat. At the same time, having been able to do both in probably the best team of all time, I wouldn't change it for the world.

Was it an advantage playing as a keeper for a great side? Even if you dropped one, the next chance was just round the corner ...

You could not look at it like that. I never, ever looked at it like that. It was definitely an advantage playing in a great side, there would be a million players who would have wanted to be in the position that I was in. But to expect that a mistake was going to be made up in the next couple of balls was something I never considered. You have to be hard on yourself. You need to wait for the next opportunity but you can't bank on it.

Sledging?

To me, Test cricket should be exactly what it is. It tests you physically and mentally. Now as long as remarks are non-racial and non-religious - I have no time for those comments - I have no problem. Banter is exciting, it's a spectacle. It tests players mentally. If someone can upset you, you're not doing the job you're supposed to do. All they are trying to do is to break your concentration. You must be able to work through it. I found it amusing most of the time.

Early in my career, the Australians tried it and it didn't really work. After that, when I came to the wicket Allan Border told them, "Don't talk to him." It made me concentrate more. While keeping, if I had something to say, I would say it over the batsman to the bowler. It's the wicketkeeper's job to get everyone going and keep high spirits. We didn't need to sledge because we had the batsmen scared enough.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo