Is wicketkeeping the easiest cricket skill to learn?

All cricket skills are hard to learn, but do the wicketkeepers have it easy compared to the batsmen and bowlers?

Paul Collingwood took over the gloves against the West Indies when the first choice keeper Matt Prior injured his finger. He did a good job. The TV and radio commentators enjoyed mulling over how difficult wicketkeeping really is, even at Test level.

Why wicketkeeping is easy

At its core wicketkeeping is about a skill most cricketers can perform: catching the ball. It's a task that is made all the easier by gloves. You could argue it's more difficult to stand at first slip without the aid of protection and catch balls flying off an edge at great speed.

Standing up is more difficult, but anyone could pick up the basics with a little practice. Like Collingwood, someone with a good pair of hands could do a competent enough job. You couldn't say the same about an opening batsman or swing bowler.

Duncan Fletcher, the innovative coach, has argued compellingly that it's far easier to teach a batsman how to catch than a catcher how to bat.

For these reasons the more specialist keeper has vanished from the game. All first class wicketkeepers these days must be able to bat. The simple truth is a decent batsman who can catch can do the job.

More than skills?

While these points are valid, they do miss a key element: You have to be prepared to do it.

Keeping wicket is difficult both physically and mentally. It's hard work crouching and concentrating on every ball of an innings and takes some getting used to. That's why, even in these days of batsmen-wicketkeepers, you almost always have a player who takes the gloves regularly.

The skills of wicketkeeping do get easier the more you practice them, so players need to be nailed down as keepers early so they can keep their standards high. This is especially true of standing up to the stumps. If you keep, always look to find someone to help you practice.

Yet despite all this work, the keeper is usually undervalued in a team. They only get noticed when they make a mistake. Unlike runs or wickets there is no strict measure of success for a wicketkeeper. You could look at byes and dismissals but both could arrive through no fault of the man with the gloves.

So for me, wicketkeeping is a skill anyone can perform but few bother to master (what's the point if you don't get much credit).

What do you think?
 
 

 



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Comments

I think keeping is definately something that you can pick up quickly and achieve a decent standard over a short time. I started keeping last year and was hopeless to start off with, but now ive got good technique and can even stand up to the medium quick bowlers. Your right in saying though david that wicket keeping is very unappreciated and you get judged on the ammount of mistakes you make and not the dismissals you have a hand in.

I could not disagree more with you David,

Clearly David you are not a wicket-keeper, as you fail to take many factors into account that a wicket-keeper as opposed to a "catcher" has on the game:

*A gloveman who takes pride in his work - neat takes, encouraging his bowlers and taking all opportunities presented has an uplifting affect on his fielders and bowlers that a backstop cannot.
e.g. When Chris Read took over the gloves in Australia last ashes, it was amazing how confident the bowlers were (Panesar in particular who immidiately began giving the ball more air & turn, and consequently taking more wickets), knowing that their gloveman was a purist, who would take any opportunity the bowler was able to conjure against some of the best batting in the world.
*A wicket-keeper who can take fast bowling over the stumps (i.e. Jack Russell, Allan Knott or Darren Berry of Australia) can place enourmous pressure on batsmen from ball one of a match. Pinning a batsman to the crease decreases scoring shots and opens up more modes of dismissal. The amount of wickets this measure has contributed to is impossible to calculate, however the WK doesn't get credit in the book for these, the LBWs and catches to mid-on/mid-off in particular.
*A purist WK who averages 30 with the bat is far more valuable to a team than a backstop that averages 40. If you want to talk statistics, the extra 10 would be more than accounted for in extra byes and runs conceded because of missed chances.
*Rahul Dravid, World Cup 2004 - need I say more?
*Matt Prior, West Indies 2009 - need I say more?
*England has the best WK in the world at the moment - Chris Read. He has shown over time that his glovework, temperament, leadership and cricket brain are without peer, which no doubt would be matched by his batting given time. Stop trying to manufacture Gilchrist wannabes! Gilchrist was a FREAK, and thus not a something we should all try to re-create. He was a world class batsman, who just so-happened to be a world class gloveman also. He was not one of the "catchers" you describe - lets not use phrases like "these days.." or "in this age of..." How about we, as coaches, gather our own thoughts and values and not be sheep.
*Such a notion that "anyone can keep wickets well" is to say that "anyone can bowl medium pace well". But we all know thats not true because we've all done it - there are subtle variances to the art that make you ok at it or excellent at it that you only know by doing it.

The best judge of a keeper, is a keeper. This is because of the IMMEASURABLE QUALITIES a quality gloveman brings to a team. Let bowlers bowl, let batters bat and let keepers keep.

David, taking this simplistic and ignorant line of thought to the budding young glovemen of tomorrow (and their coaches) is irresponsible and potentially damaging to a tradition of close to 150 years. It is perhaps such views that have English wicket-keeping in the state that it is now in. I am a big fan of your page, your articles, etc. and it is for this reason why I think you should know better.

What, in your opinion, was my view in the article Liam?

I think the article has a very similar feel to the old adage of goal keeping in football David. It's a job nobody wants but one they get forced in to doing. Liam makes several very good points, especially the one about standing up to fast bowling. I'd love to see some of my team mates who quite rightly can 'catch a ball' do this and not want to swap with 3rd man after the end of the 1st over!!

"You could argue it's more difficult to stand at first slip without the aid of protection and catch balls flying off an edge at great speed."

As a keeper myself I find this a bit of a poor point. Over the course of the last game I caught the ball 3-4 balls per over meaning in a 45 over game i'm catching between 135 and 180 balls. 1st slip had 2-3 balls to stop during the first 15 overs before he was taken away and placed elsewhere!

The WK is probably the most undervalued player in the team and i'm not saying that because I am one. When he's taking leg side deliveries because the bowlers trying to blast the batsman out rather than bowling line and length 'it's his job', yet if he drops a tough edge or misses a stumping due to being mis-sighted he's the villain. It's a no win situation.

Not many players have to concentrate as much for the whole innings apart from the captain and I agree with Liam, when i'm watching a good keeper at work it's only people who have been there done that that are able to understand how much hard work goes into making the difficult look easy.

I agree Liam. I suppose my point was that it's easier in terms of skill development to become a keeper than say a swing bowler or an opening batsman. If a young player takes up the gloves and has the psychological make up to do it then he should work on it hard. It's still a hard skill to learn and even harder to have the mental makeup to do it. That does not take away from the fact that you can teach any decent catcher to be a keeper.

That is not to devalue the excellent skills of a masterful keeper in any way, it's just the stock of the keeper is low because it's hard to quantify his contribution. The difference between a decent keeper and an excellent keeper is subjective mostly (although the difference between a decent keeper and a poor one is very clear).

I wouldn't say I am arguing for all wicketkeepers to be banished and you just pick the best of the batsmen to do the job. That would be foolish. However, what we NEVER see at the first class level any more is the specialist keeper: The one who is a tail-ender with the bat. It used to be commonplace. The batsman-keeper is all powerful now, at least at the first class level.

Good to see England Manager Andy Flower's comments during the week.

He suggested that the Keepers should be chosen first and foremost on glovework and that batting is simply a bonus. And this is how they will select for the Ashes, hopefully seeing one J. Foster given the opportunity he so dearly deserves after his brilliant performances with the gloves in the World T20. He went on to say that the T20's have only affirmed the need for a specialist Keeper. An interesting point of view from a guy who was a backstop himself.

Good to see that, with a more muture perspective, even the beneficiaries of this notion can see the fundamental problems with it.

I have not read the comments in question but I'm not sure I agree 100%. As Mike Brearley says, what if your best wicketkeeper is as terrible a batsman as Keith Andrew and all your bowlers are like Panesar? Batting is certainly not a bonus, it's a critical skill. Sometimes you have to pick the worse gloveman but better batsman to balance out the batting order. Although on balance, I would prefer the better keeper, it's not always possible if you have a long tail.

I completely agree with Liam. Wicketkeeping Is not an easy job. It takes real skill to take flying edges, make quick stumpings and stand up to the stumps when the ball is coming at you at 80 MPH. You are right at saying that anyone can catch a ball but wicketkeeping isn't just that. To finsh i'd like to ask you whether you think Monty could keep for England?

im primerily a batsman, and im actualy quite interested in wicket keeping, even though im hopeless at the moment.

iv had some nasty injuroies in the process 2, iv had my lip caught on my braces when a ball flew into my face while helmetless. iv been hit in the crotch with a doddgy jock strap.....that was nasty....does anyone know anywer wer i can learn the best technique for keeping.

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