Poor old Matt Prior. The first English wicketkeeper who dares to use a bit of lip to put off the batsman gets told by an Aussie to shut up.
Ignoring that irony, one thing that is for sure is that the noise of keepers at all levels has dramatically risen under the the banner of chirping. The theory is twofold. First you put off the batsman by making him lose his concentration or feel under pressure. Second you keep the fielding side on their toes through constant encouragement.
It's certainly my experience as a keeper that both tactics do the intended job.
It's fairly easy to put certain batsmen off their game. A lot of players ignore it, but the right comment gets the batsman thinking about something else or even a technical weakness and playing an inappropriate shot. Is this type of sledging against the spirit of the game? I don't think so.
For me it's another tactic to be used. There is a big proviso here though, you can't take it too far. Any comments of a personal nature cease to have legitimacy and fall outside of the game situation is not on in my book.
This tactic can easily also be overused. An endless stream of mindless chatter or gasping at every ball as if it beat the outside edge can lead a batsman to treat the sound as background noise and block it out. That's where I feel Matt Prior goes too far. He is defeating the object.
What I do like about Prior in the field, and I feel all keepers can do with little fear, is his job as the Sargent Major of the fielding side.
The keeper is the natural centre point in the field anyway but it's easy to add in motivational duties. The captain might set the field, but the keeper can shout support to the fielders to keep those who doze ready for action. I find a quick bit of eye contact and a nod to certain players is enough to switch them on in periods when not much is happening.
A quick chat with the bowler between overs also works well as long as you avoid pointing out the obvious.
Watch out though, this can get pretty annoying. Especially if you run out of things to say and start going over the same comments too many times. A bowler knows to pitch it up when he bowls a shocking long hop. The will not need reminding by the bloke with the big gloves on.
So all wicketkeepers need to take care not to put their own team off. Like many tactics in cricket, the noise level of the keeper is a balance. Go too far with it and you lose the point. Ignore it altogether and you are missing an important psychological tool.
Wicketkeepers shouldn't shut up.
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