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Kept in reserve

The job of reserve wicketkeeper has often been a frustrating one on tour

Bill Ricquier
04-Jun-2015
BJ Watling walks off having made 120, England v New Zealand, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 4th day, June 1, 2015

BJ Watling had the luxury of playing the Test against England as a specialist batsman  •  PA Photos

New Zealand had an interesting selection quandary for the second Test against England at Headingley. Their first-choice wicketkeeper BJ Watling had injured his knee in the first game at Lord's and was not passed fit to perform behind the stumps. This is an area where the Kiwis have an embarrassment of riches. Brendon McCullum used to keep wickets regularly while Tom Latham did a sound job at Lord's in place of Watling. But the vote went to the specialist wicketkeeper Luke Ronchi, while Watling played as a batsman. So New Zealand had both their regular keepers in the playing XI.
Both ended up having terrific games in New Zealand's historic victory. Ronchi had a difficult time behind the stumps but made 88 off 70 balls in a startling debut innings while Watling's beautifully crafted second-innings century helped shape the match.
The job of reserve wicketkeeper has often been a frustrating one on tour. In the "old days" you would've got at least some cricket. When Tim Zoehrer was an understudy for Ian Healy in 1993, he played eight first-class matches; when Matthew Wade fulfilled the same role for Brad Haddin in 2013, he played one. It is difficult to say whether things have gotten better or worse since tours have become shorter and more intense. Ronchi is lucky in that Watling is a red-ball specialist - international duties were always going to be shared. More often than not the reserve is waiting half in dread and half in eagerness for a loss of form or fitness by the main man - as happened to Matt Prior in Australia in 2013-14 when Jonny Bairstow replaced him for the last two Tests.
But, generally, wicketkeepers don't lose form or fitness. They just go on and on. Think of Godfrey Evans and Alan Knott, Dave Richardson and Mark Boucher, Rodney Marsh, Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist. Evans was a classic example. He was a major figure in English cricket for over a decade and a regular fixture in a genuinely strong side. He held spectacular catches and had the sort of ebullient and chivvying personality that captains love to have behind the stumps. By the time Evans finished, in 1959, his 91 Tests made him the most capped Test cricketer in the world.
One thing Evans was not required to do was make runs. He would bat at eight and if he scored runs, that was a bonus. Of course there were wicketkeepers who were good batsmen as well: England's Les Ames, the only wicketkeeper to make a 100 first-class centuries; West Indies' Clyde Walcott, a real allrounder, the only man to have taken at least ten wickets and made a minimum of ten stumpings in Tests; Imtiaz Ahmed of Pakistan; John Waite of South Africa and Farokh Engineer of India. But in more recent years it has been a different story. The keeper has to get runs. Jim Parks of England was an early example of a batsman who turned himself into a keeper. It was Adam Gilchrist who really broke the mould. Now every team wants a Gilchrist and ideally two, in case the first one gets injured.
Back in 1993, on Australia's tour of England, there were 21 first-class matches including six Tests. Healy played 16 and Zoehrer eight. Surely some mistake, I hear you say. No, Zoehrer was an accomplished legspinner; in fact he headed the tourists' bowling averages though his chances of replacing Warne in that year, of all years, were even more remote than his chances of replacing Healy.
Usually - at least historically - you couldn't rely on the reserve wicketkeeper to bat, let alone bowl. That is why the Watling-Ronchi situation is so unusual. There are precedents but not inspiring ones. In Australia in 1950-51, Evans' deputy, Arthur McIntyre, was picked as a specialist batsman in the first Test, a nightmarish game for batsmen played on a Brisbane "sticky dog". England lost heavily, MacIntyre was bowled for one in the first innings and was run out in the second for seven.
The third Test between England and India in 1967 at Edgbaston was memorable principally as being the only time all of India's great spin quartet - Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Bishan Bedi and Srinivas Venkataraghavan - played in the same Test. Less often remembered is that both of India's wicketkeepers, Engineer and Budhi Kunderan, played. Kunderan opened the batting and, more implausibly, the bowling - they must have drawn lots in the dressing room. The classic reserve wicketkeeper was Bob Taylor. He travelled the world as Knott's understudy wondering when he would get his opportunity; it came when Knott joined World Series Cricket, and soon Taylor had a proper Test career of his own.
Keith Andrew was less fortunate. For much of the 1950s and 1960s he was thought by the experts to be the best keeper in England, sounder and more technically proficient than Evans, though lacking the latter's flair.
Andrew's big chance came on England's tour of Australia in 1954-55. Evans was injured just before the first Test in Brisbane. Hutton won the toss and put Australia in (Nasser Hussain did the same thing almost 50 years later). In Alec Bedser's third over, opener Arthur Morris flicked a ball down the leg side and Andrew dived for a very difficult chance. It didn't stick. Morris went on to make 153. Australia scored 601 for 8 and won by an innings. England went on to win the series though, with Evans playing a key role. Andrew played his second and last Test match in 1963.
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