The wicket-keeper was a tail-end batsman once upon a time whose only job in the team was to be secure behind the wickets. He was agile, sitting low and waiting patiently for every edge that came his way. The time has changed now as the wicket-keeper must necessarily be an able batsman, and that could only be seen as a positive for the game had not the art of wicket-keeping suffered at the hands of it. The purist will tell you that it has. Ever since Adam Gilchrist, the ‘wicket-keeper-batsman’ has displaced the wicket keeper so much so that a below-average keeper with good batting skills is preferred over a below-average batsman with good wicket-keeping skills.
The example of Rahul Dravid comes to mind, a genuine batsman if there ever was any, was forced to take up the gloves because glove-work was something that could be managed. The balance of the side was more important. The spectator too has changed with the game, technique and skill are not required in a keeper as long as he does not glaring holes in his gloves. A fiddler who can smash the ball will do very well, is welcome. AB De Villiers is yet another case. A top-class batsman who has grown into the role gradually. MS Dhoni is an unorthodox player in every aspect of the game; may it be with his keeping or batting. These players are modern-day legends but they leave a little to be desired for the nostalgic purist.
We cannot turn the game around for him but here is a list of 5 wicket-keepers who lived in an era when they did not need to have a flowering relationship with the bat not to say they did not do their bit.
Wasim Bari was not a flamboyant character on the field and did his work behind the stumps in an understated but efficient manner. He was a consistent fixture in the Pakistan side for twelve years. Considering the current upheaval in Pakistan Cricket regarding the below-average skills of Kamran Akmal, here is inspiration enough. Wasim Bari holds the record for the maximum dismissals for Pakistan and is their best keeper in history by a safe distance. He began his Test career as a no.10 batsman and ended it at that position but he was involved in more than a few match-saving partnerships for Pakistan.
Alan Knott stood behind the stumps for England in 95 tests and rarely missed a chance. He is famed for his excellent keeping skills against spin-bowling, and a much told incident involves Derek Underwood bowling his quick spinners that were almost impossible to keep given the massive variation in bounce. Known as ‘Knotty’ to his colleagues, he knew how to put a price to his wicket and played some handy knocks for England down the order but he was a specialist wicket-keeper first and foremost.
Rod Marsh held the record of most dismissals behind the stumps when he retired in 1984 as Australia’s most successful wicket-keeper. Marsh did not have the perfect built for a wicket-keeper but he was very agile behind the stumps. His unwavering concentration, athleticism and flawless technique made him a respected figure in the game. Ironically, he started off as a specialist batsman but his fame in the history books will certainly go down to his abilities with the gloves.
The West Indian formed an incomparable sight in the history of cricket as he stood behind the stumps keeping to the great fast bowlers of the West Indies. He brought a different brand of wicket-keeper to the game who threw himself around, lunging to take a one-handed take preventing byes. Dujon was a handful with the bat too, uncomplicated and dangerous. The only gap in his ability rather experience that remains is that he never really kept against spin as only five of his 270 victims were out stumped.
Perhaps the best wicket-keeper the game has seen outside of the statistics. They do not do justice to the contribution that he made to the game itself. He developed the skill of wicket-keeping in a forgotten era. He was a live-wire on the pitch adding to the energy of the fielders on the pitch and was a bit-and-pieces player with the bat. It was his contribution behind the stumps that mattered the most in a time that could not foresee the wicket-keeper-batsman of today. In terms of what he added to the game, the skill of wicket-keeping he will remain unsurpassed.