- Practice properly. It's amazing how little the skills of wicketkeeping are practised. You need to do more than field a few throws before play. During training you need to spend as much time as you can working on all aspects of your game. That means keeping in the nets, working on specific drills with a coach, taking part in catching drills without the gloves, footwork with ladders and cones and glovework standing up and back. A good tip before play is to get the opening bowlers to work with you on the edge of the square (after a full warm up). You get the gloves warm and they get to build some rhythm.
- Think about your crouch position. If you are like most club keepers you crouch by bending your knees fully. This usually leads to your heels lifting up through the poor flexibility caused by modern living. In fact, this method puts a lot of pressure on your knees. In a recent study it was found that a crouch position with your knees bent less and your feet flat on the floor has no performance difference and takes the stress off your knees. Consider taking this stance with your feet slightly wider as it will reduce your injury risk and extend your wicketkeeping career.
- Know when to stand up. Standing up to seam bowling is all the rage. For many keepers it has become an ego thing to stand up to every bowler but you need to know when to do it. If the ball is moving around then you want to be back to have a better chance of getting the edge. If the pitch is flat and the batsmen are getting aggressive then getting in their face and putting them under pressure is the way to go. Practice standing up to faster bowling as much as you can but use the tactic sparingly.
- Play for the edge. Whether you are standing up or back, aim to take the ball in a way that is ready for an edge. When standing back this means being ready to dive. Some keepers recommend taking the ball 'on the inside' meaning you catch with your body to the side of the ball rather than right in front of you. This can be counterproductive when the ball is swinging around a lot though. If you are standing up the trick is to try and catch the outside edge of the ball with a wide catching area, giving you a little bit more chance of taking the edge.
- Be the focus in the field. While the captain is the general in the field, the wicketkeeper is the sergeant major. It's your job to keep the troops going through anything with plenty of team and individual encouragement. You need to bring the players back into focus any way you can. Often this means shouting support in a general way to remind people they are in the game. You should certainly praise any good cricket you see be it bowling or fielding. Sometimes you need to put your arm around a player individually or take the mickey (in a non-offensive way). Anything that relaxes the team and keeps them working together is good to do. Some teams like to return all balls to the keeper in the field (Even if there is no run out chance) to develop this further.
- Talk to the captain. The keeper is in a unique position to see things others can't. Take time to speak to the captain about the ball swinging or seaming, batsman's technique and state of mind and the pace or spin on the ball. A lot of captain's won't ask for that information but welcome it when you offer it so don't be shy and get involved in the discussion wherever you can.
- Get fit. Wicketkeeping is the most physically demanding position in cricket. It's even truer that the fitter you are the better you are. You need good work capacity, power in your legs to jump and dive, lightning reactions and quick feet. Don't skimp on working these areas during your training.
- Take returns in front of the stumps. Tradition dictates that throws should be taken behind the stumps to make sure direct hits are effective. But direct hit's in the club game are very rare so consider getting in front of the stumps sideways on. This will allow you to get to throws that don't reach the stumps and carry your hands through in an arc to take out the stumps. To do this effectively you need to plant one leg by the stumps to act as a guide because you cant see them. It takes some practice to take off the bails blind, but if you can do it then it's faster than waiting for the throw to come in while you wait behind the stumps.
- Use one glove. If you take returns from the field with only one glove on it will allow you to throw the ball to the bowlers end more quickly. It also has the added advantage of improving your catching because it's harder to take the ball cleanly. This also extends to throwing a glove off if you are required to field a ball on the ground to stop a quick single. In fact, I would recommend practising throwing down the stumps with one glove on to get used to the idea of turning and throwing.
Want to know the secrets of how to change a game with a moment of wicket-keeping brilliance? Pick up a copy of "Wicketkeeping Drills, Tips and Training" by Level 4 Coach Adrian Shaw and become a better keeper today.