Numbers Game

Age of the batsman-wicketkeeper

Wicketkeepers have been far more prolific with the bat since 2000, and Matthew Wade has shown early signs of conforming to that trend

S Rajesh
S Rajesh
Matthew Wade's century in Roseau was the 170th by a wicketkeeper in Tests, of which 79 have been scored since 2000  •  AFP

Matthew Wade's century in Roseau was the 170th by a wicketkeeper in Tests, of which 79 have been scored since 2000  •  AFP

There was a time when the duty of the wicketkeeper was to keep wicket, and perhaps occasionally contribute with the bat, but that was more than a couple of decades ago. Now, the rules of the game have changed, and Australia's latest incumbent to the role, Matthew Wade, has learnt the new requirements of his job description pretty quickly, becoming only the sixth wicketkeeper from the country to score a Test century. He achieved it in only his third Test, which is pretty impressive considering that one of his predecessors, Wally Grout, played 51 Tests and only managed a highest of 74 (though there's no doubting his quality behind the stumps).
Grout's was an age when a wicketkeeper's skills behind the stumps was almost all that counted - his batting ability was only a bonus. Not any longer, though. Andy Flower was perhaps the first wicketkeeper who could command his place in any team as a batsman alone, though Adam Gilchrist took most of the credit for that with his astonishingly free-spirited batting at No. 7 in a strong Australian side. That redefined the role of a wicketkeeper, and that's perhaps one of the biggest changes seen in Test cricket over the last few decades.
The table below lists decade-wise averages of wicketkeepers since 1950, and it's clear that since 2000 the numbers have changed dramatically: from an average that used to hover in the mid-20s, it has shot up to more than 30 over the last decade. Compared to the 1950s, the batting average of wicketkeepers has jumped up by 53%. During the same period, the averages for openers went up by about 10.5% (33.42 to 36.90), for all top-order batsmen by about 18% (32.42 to 38.34) and for all tailenders by about 11% (14.05 to 15.63). (Top-order defined as batsmen in positions 1 to 7, and tailenders as positions 8 to 11.) In each of those cases, the increase in averages is less than 20%, while for wicketkeepers the rise is more than 50% - that expresses the change pretty eloquently. In the 1950s, there were ten centuries for wicketkeepers in 505 innings - an average of one every 50.5 innings; since 2000, it has gone up to 79 in 1806 innings - that's one every 23 innings.
Batting stats for wicketkeepers in Tests over the decades
Decade Players Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
1950s 38 164 9005 20.60 10/ 39
1960s 35 186 12,150 23.59 12/ 59
1970s 24 198 14,764 27.29 11/ 84
1980s 39 266 15,696 23.63 14/ 63
1990s 37 347 25,950 27.28 30/ 126
2000s 47 464 41,705 31.81 65/ 207
2010s 27 98 8534 30.37 14/ 46
Batting stats for wicketkeepers in Tests before and since 2000
Period Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Before 2000 1480 94,251 24.02 91/ 433
Since 2000 562 50,239 31.55 79/ 253
The team-wise batting stats for wicketkeepers since 2000 has two teams with 42-plus averages, followed by a huge gap, and then the rest. Thanks to Flower and Gilchrist, Zimbabwe and Australia are way ahead of the rest of the sides.
During this period, Zimbabwe have had only three wicketkeepers - Flower, Tatenda Taibu and Regis Chakabva (who has played just one Test). Flower had outstanding stats in the 23 Tests he played during this period, averaging more than 73 in 20 Tests. For Australia, Brad Haddin has been the other keeper who has played plenty of Tests apart from Gilchrist, and he hasn't done badly either with the bat, averaging almost 36 in 43 Tests. And that's despite struggling in his last four series, in which he managed only two half-centuries in 17 innings. Wade has begun well too, though the challenge will be to maintain that average of almost 40. In fact, Australia's batting average for their wicketkeepers since Gilchrist's retirement is 35.88, which is second among all teams - only England's average of 40.66 is higher.
After those two teams, there are six bunched together with averages between 29 and 33. England's average is boosted by Matt Prior's prolific form - he averages more than 43 in 52 Tests. That's made up for the lack of contributions from Geraint Jones and Chris Read, who played 48 Tests between them for a combined average of 23.34. Sri Lanka's overall average has fallen since Kumar Sangakkara decided to give up wicketkeeping in Tests (though his stats as a specialist batsman completely justifies that move). Prasanna Jayawardene, his replacement, didn't contribute a whole lot as a batsman in his early days, but has shown impressive skill and resolve with the bat in the last 18 months.
India have used more wicketkeepers than any other team, mainly because they couldn't make up their minds in the early 2000s, but since MS Dhoni took over he hasn't had much competition. Dhoni's overall batting numbers are reasonably good too, with an average of more than 37 in 67 Tests.
At the bottom of that group of six teams is South Africa, with one wicketkeeper playing almost all their matches during this period. Mark Boucher is far and away the most successful wicketkeeper in terms of dismissals, but his batting stats are slightly disappointing - only two centuries in 122 Tests, and an average of 30.22, is probably a little lesser than what Boucher should have achieved given his ability.
Batting stats for wicketkeepers of each team in Tests since 2000
Team Players Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Zimbabwe 3 48 3477 44.57 46.31 7/ 20
Australia 5 142 7893 42.20 69.89 20/ 35
England 6 156 6981 33.40 53.69 11/ 40
Sri Lanka 6 116 5590 33.07 52.12 11/ 18
New Zealand 7 95 4123 30.54 50.25 7/ 18
India 11 132 5493 30.51 50.59 7/ 33
Pakistan 9 106 4588 29.60 58.01 8/ 21
South Africa 3 128 4813 29.34 50.58 2/ 32
Bangladesh 4 73 2985 23.69 38.51 2/ 13
West Indies 6 127 4279 22.88 48.60 4/ 23
And finally, here's a look at the wicketkeepers with the best batting averages (with a qualification of 2000 runs in the matches in which they kept wicket). Not surprisingly, most of the top names belong to the post-2000 era. The one exception among the top eight is England's Les Ames, who scored eight hundreds in 44 Tests as wicketkeeper, and averaged 43.40. He played in the 1930s, when the overall average of wicketkeepers was 25.67, which offers a good indication of how much better he was than the others in his era. In that decade, Ames scored 2387 runs; no other wicketkeeper scored more than 820.
Wicketkeeper-batsmen with highest Test batting averages (Qual: 2000 runs)
Player Tests Runs Average 100s/ 50s
Andy Flower 55 4404 53.70 12/ 23
Adam Gilchrist 96 5570 47.60 17/ 26
Les Ames 44 2387 43.40 8/ 7
Matt Prior 52 2758 43.09 6/ 19
Kumar Sangakkara 48 3117 40.48 7/ 11
MS Dhoni 67 3509 37.32 5/ 24
Brad Haddin 43 2257 35.82 3/ 10
Alec Stewart 82 4540 34.92 6/ 23
Brendon McCullum 51 2782 34.77 5/ 15
Alan Knott 95 4389 32.75 5/ 30
Jeff Dujon 79 3146 31.46 5/ 16
Farokh Engineer 46 2611 31.08 2/ 16
Only includes matches in which they played as a wicketkeeper.

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