People often talk about the amount of hard work fast bowlers put in during their playing careers. Wicket-keeping is another discipline in cricket, which takes a lot out of a player perhaps more than anyone in the game.
It is a thankless job and leaves wicket-keepers with swollen and crooked fingers at the end of their playing careers. Alan Knott, Jeff Dujon, Rodney Marsh and Ian Healy are considered to be the finest wicket-keepers to have played the game.
Wicket-keepers are always involved in the game as they are trained to expect that every ball is coming their way so much so that coaches instruct them to even expect the batsman to miss a full-toss.
This method helps them in keeping switched on and concentrate hard. Besides not conceding runs through byes, wicket-keepers inflict the most dismissals – caught behind, stumping and run-outs which makes them a very significant member of the side and should they make a mistake, the team could suffer immensely.
Apart from saving runs and meting out dismissals, another prime role of a wicket-keeper is to cheer their team from behind the stumps which keep them going in tough times. These days, wicket-keepers play an essential role in the newly-introduced DRS as they have the best view of the happenings and can gauge whether they should opt for a review or not.
The view from behind the stumps also helps them in getting the angles of the fielding positions right much to the relief of the skipper. They even dish out verbal volleys to the opposition’s batsmen to break their concentration. Sri Lanka’s Sangakarra was a master at it and never shied away from chirping at batsmen.
Wicket-keepers need to immense strength in their legs as their footwork, like batsmen, must be impeccable which helps them in moving sideways to collect the ball. The toughest job for a gloveman is to keep wicket to spinners who generate a lot of bounce off the wicket or turn the ball square.
These bowlers will beat the batsmen but will need an exceptionally good keeper to help them get amongst the wickets. After finishing their jobs, the real challenge lies in contributing with the bat which is not only physically challenging but also requires a certain skill set.
While keeping wicket to a spinner, wicket-keepers are often seen attempting to break the stumps even when the batsman hits it in the outfield. This method is followed to build a muscle memory which will put them in auto-pilot mode to create a potential stumping chance should the batsman miss a delivery and gets overbalanced.
Depending on the conditions, wicket-keepers have to crouch almost before every ball is bowled to delay standing up as much as they can. Technically, they do that because it is easier to move upwards rather than down.
Before the turn of the millennium, wicket-keeping was a specialist job i.e. their prowess with the bat did not matter too much. The emergence of Adam Gilchrist changed the dynamics of wicket-keeping in international cricket.
The Australian was not only good behind the stumps but was, arguably, as good in front of them with the bat in hand. The rest of the teams followed suit and paid equal emphasis on both batting and glovework. And the results came along quickly when the likes of Mark Boucher, Kumar Sangakkara, Brendon McCullum and MS Dhoni became indispensable to their sides and went on to have big and successful careers.
Indian star Dhoni came into limelight for his explosive batting but he knew that alone wasn’t enough to survive at the big stage for too long. He worked exceptionally hard on his keeping and is now one of the best to have taken the big gloves with numerous records to his name.
He might not be the most agile, which is one of the pre-requisite for a wicket-keeper but makes up for it with his fast hands and great anticipation methods. In modern-day cricket, batting skills of a wicket-keeper is a must but the job of keeping wicket remains the more significant one, especially in the longer format of the game.
Wicket-keeping, like most disciplines in cricket, is an art and requires a lot of hard work to perfect it.
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