Imagine the scene, you turn up at nets. The bowler's bowl and the batsmen bat. Sometimes they swap places. It's all pretty typical.
What about the keeper?
The guy is just expected to never make a mistake, even when all the work he gets involves taking throws from fielding practice.
Hardly fair, is it?
The problem of coaching a specialist
You see, wicketkeeping is a specialist position that requires practice away from the rest of the group.
Coaches shy away from the 'keeper because they don't have the specialist expertise or the resources to spend so much time on one player.
It can lead to long term problems too.
Unless the side has a passionate player with the gloves, it tends to go to the batsman who hates the job least rather than being cherished as the conductor of the orchestra.
But with a bit of effort from the coach or captain all these problems can be sidetracked.
And here's how.
Get them early
The first step in a healthy wicketkeeping section at your club is to get the keen ones trying it out as early as possible.
That means making sure younger kids who express even the slightest interest should be given coaching on the basics.
At our club all the 6-9 year olds get basic coaching on keeping wicket (they only play soft ball at that age anyway), and any who like doing it get earmarked to try the big gloves when they move to hard ball cricket.
You can group coach older kids in wicketkeeping up to about 14 or 15, but by then you should have at least a broad idea of who wants to do it regularly and be encoraging and coaching them at every opportunity.
If the coach makes it fun enough, there will be more than one in the team willing to try it. After all it's quite a challenge to your skills requiring hand-eye coordination, technique, concentration and athleticism.
Become world class at the basics
But it's not just 9 year olds who need to get the basics right. Senior keepers need to spend time honing the basics to perfection. No matter how old they are.
Really good 'keepers are not flashy; they just do the basics to world class levels. All the coach needs to do is get the wicketkeeping technically perfect.
You don't need to be a specialist wicketkeeping coach (or wicketkeeper) to be able to coach the basics, and get 'keepers mastering them.
And anyone can do that.
Simply use drills to work on:
- Head: watch the ball, keep still, keep over the line of the ball
- Hands: wide catching area, ride with the ball, strong not rigid
- Feet: move fast and late, be on the balls of your feet, stay forwards.
In particular work on the harder skills: Leg side takes, stumping chances and diving for the ball standing back.
Of course there is more detail to the basics than this. For a proper discussion on the techniques and drills, pick up a copy of first-class wicketkeeper Nic Northcote's eBook: Wicket-Keeping: The Ultimate Guide to Mastering the Art.
Make time for practice
Of course, all the technical discussion in the world is useless unless you make time to practice.
We are back to our typical net session again where the keeper is left behind, or worse, forced to demonstrate his frankly terrible bowling.
Instead the coach (or captain in absence of a coach) should take the lead and ask the keeper if he wants to practice. Most will.
Find a volunteer in the team to help the 'keeper (it helps if there is more than one keeper at practice although this isn't vital) and set up practice drills:
- In a spare net, practice standing up to throwdowns or a bowling machine on a spin setting. To add to the realism, borrow the batsman waiting to bat to get in the way (batting with a stump).
- In a spare net get a spinner to bowl. It's good target practice for the spinner and gets the keeper used to that bowler's line, length and bounce. Again, a batsman with a stump can add to the realism.
- Use a tennis ball without gloves on. Tennis balls are harder to catch and great for grooving technique. Either throw it against the wall or get a partner to hit you the ball with a tennis racquet, getting it to skim off a length or fuller.
- Work on diving on a soft surface (grass, crash mat) with someone throwing a tennis or cricket ball wide enough to put the dive in. One and two handed. The feeder can mix up the sides and throw in the odd straight one to ensure the 'keeper is not premeditating movement.
There are several other drills that are even more specialised aiming to develop fitness, footwork, reactions and explosive power. However, if time and resources are limited, stick to the basics and get them to the highest possible levels.
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image credit: Jim Grady