Can We Rank Wicketkeepers in Cricket?

ICC Rankings do not include Wicket Keepers, However, Sportsnasha has tried to analyze rankings for Wicket Keepers in International Cricket.. Prasad Palkar has done exclusive research on this and thrown more light than ever….  Read out..

Wicket-keeping – A thankless job

At heart, Cricket is a contest between bat and ball. Over the years we have been fortunate to have witnessed some great performers in both the disciplines. The game has seen certain extraordinary batsmen with different styles, some wearing out the bowlers and some dominating. We have seen a set of astonishing bowlers; some, frightening the batsmen with their pace & accuracy and some, mystifying with their guile of spin. As the game has evolved, the cricketing world has acknowledged the importance of the third discipline of the game as well. We have witnessed some brilliant fielders and in the modern era, good fielding has become the norm for almost every cricketer. However, there is a set of players who do their job quietly in every game and yet, no one talks about them. They do all the hard yards but don’t get the recognition that a batsman or a bowler gets. In fact, some of these players are remembered more for their batting prowess. This is because they have the most thankless job in the game – Wicket-keeping.

 

One might say that it’s no big deal about being a keeper. All they have to do is to collect the ball behind the stumps. To be honest, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Wicket-keeping is an art. It has its own technique and the keepers have to adjust the same while playing on different surfaces. Outside the sub-continent, the ball bounces a lot more. But the real test of a keeper is on slowish sub-continental wickets where there is low bounce, the ball stops, and turns and sometimes does a bit too much off the wicket. Thus the adjustment needed in the technique is a lot bigger. There are two things that are at the center of the art of wicket-keeping – Accuracy, and agility. A good keeper not only collects the ball safely behind the stumps but also grabs the majority of the catching opportunities coming his way, whether easy or not. Accuracy is not just about catching. He has to collect the ball coming to him in any direction so that he can save the extras in the form of byes and over-throws. Agility can be more associated with the stumpings and run-outs effected by the keeper. A good keeper is quick to recognize a stumping opportunity as he whips the bails off before the batsman can get back in the crease. Also, he collects the throw from the fielder cleanly and close to the stumps to effect a quick run-out. In the modern era where the margins are getting smaller each day, it is essential to have a good wicket-keeper in the side so that the maximum opportunities can be converted into wickets.

 

Earlier the role of a keeper was restricted only to keeping wickets and batting a little bit somewhere in the order. However modern greats such as Gilchrist, Sangakkara, and Dhoni have revolutionized a keeper’s role as a batsman. Nowadays, a keeper has become an integral part in the batting line-up any team. So now, there is hardly any talk about their wicket-keeping skills on different surfaces against different bowlers. Hence we decided to take a look at some of the world’s finest keepers. However, it’s very tough to rate keepers purely on the basis of their wicket-keeping skills. As mentioned earlier, there are different surfaces over the world where the keeper needs to adjust his technique. We don’t have a defined parameter for different kind of pitches. Also, there is no data available of dropped catches, missed stumpings or run-outs etc. over different formats. Thus there is no fair system to rate the keepers purely on their wicket-keeping skills.  Hence you have to look at catches and stumpings per innings by the keeper. You have to go with the principle that more the catches and stumpings per innings, more opportunities are converted into wickets. Now let’s take a look at the finest keepers for each team –

 

India – India have been blessed to have had some of the finest keepers, right from the likes of Farokh Engineer and Syed Kirmani to MS Dhoni and Wriddhiman Saha. The newbie Rishabh Pant is already making headlines with his batting. But Pant the keeper is still work in progress. When we think of India’s best keeper, the first name that comes to the mind is MS Dhoni, purely because of the colossal figure that he has been in Indian Cricket. He has been a proven match-winner with the bat and exemplary as a leader. Although his batting skills are waning with age, his wicket-keeping skills have been simply astonishing over the years.

 

Dhoni has kept wickets across formats on typical Asian surfaces where the ball does a bit too much for a keeper’s liking. He has always been a safe catcher but his strong reflexes and smart technique have helped him effect lightning-quick stumpings. Plus, his astuteness to run-out batsmen by nonchalantly collecting the throw from the fielder is a joy to watch. These are the small, little things that make a difference to the result. And that is where Dhoni brings in the X-factor. Remember, he started as a goalkeeper before turning to wicket-keeping. So, he didn’t quite have the best technique, to begin with. But he has kept really well in the longer format too. The former skipper has kept wickets to spinners like Kumble, Bhajji, Ashwin, Jadeja and the rest on sluggish surfaces where you don’t quite know what the ball would do after pitching. Let’s look at his stats across formats –

MSD

FormatMatInnsCtStDisMax Dis InnsDis/Inn
Tests90166256382946 (6 Ct 0 St)1.771
ODI3273223061134196 (5 Ct 1 St)1.301
T20I93925433875(5 Ct 0 St)0.945
Overall5105806161848006 (6 Ct 0 St)1.379

 

Highest total without conceding a bye by Dhoni in Tests is 581

 

Let’s compare his stats with other Indian wicket-keepers –

 

Syed Kirmani –

 

FormatMatInnsCtStDisMax Dis InnsDis/Inn
Tests88151160381986 (5 Ct 1 St)1.311
ODI4948279365 (5 Ct 0 St)0.750
Overall137199187472346 (5 Ct 1 St)1.175

Highest total without conceding a bye in Tests by Kirmani is 652.

 

Kiran More –

 

FormatMatInnsCtStDisMax Dis InnsDis/Inn
Tests4990110201305 (5 Ct 0 St)1.444
ODI94936327905 (3 Ct 2 St)0.967
Overall143183173472205 (3 Ct 2 St)1.202

 

Nayan Mongia –

FormatMatInnsCtStDisMax Dis InnsDis/Inn
Tests44779981075 (5 Ct 0 St)1.389
ODI140139110441545 (4 Ct 1 St)1.107
Overall184216209522615 (5 Ct 0 St)1.208

 

Wriddhiman Saha –

 

FormatMatInnsCtStDisMax Dis InnsDis/Inn
Tests32607510856 (5 Ct 1 St)1.416
Overall416892111036 (5 Ct 1 St)1.514

Highest total without conceding a bye in Tests by Saha is 572 for 7

If we look at the dismissal/innings, Dhoni stands out amongst the rest. Saha has a better ratio if we look at his overall figures, but the sample size very less. Saha has been a fine keeper in tests so far; but having played across formats and surfaces, Dhoni edges him out to be India’s best keeper.

So, what’s the reason for Dhoni’s success as a pure wicket-keeper? He is such a smart reader of the game that he knows what’s coming to him more often than not. He inflicts majority of the stumpings purely on the basis of his ability to read the bowler and the batsman. Plus, having captained India for so many years, he generally has an idea of what line and length the bowler would be bowling. Truly, India have been fortunate to have not just a fine keeper but a terrific batsman with a shrewd mind.

  • Prasad Palkar