The era of the super-keeper

“He completely changed the way we looked at wicketkeepers. After his ascent, specialist wicketkeepers started taking a back seat and wicketkeepers who could contribute big runs with the bat came into prominence.”

Of all the great things which Adam Gilchrist achieved in the game, there can be few more influential things than the change he wrought in the role of the wicket keeper. As Kumar Sangakkara, one of Gilchrist’s contemporaries and a close friend noted, he completely changed the way we look at wicket keepers.

The measure of Gilchrist’s influence has been thoroughly evident recently. In South Africa AB De Villiers has continued to step seamlessly into the shoes of Mark Boucher behind the stumps with 17 catches in the series against Pakistan. It helps when you have bowlers as good as Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and in the final match Kyle Abbott to make the chances but De Villiers is snaffling them well. More importantly for the balance of the team is that his form with the bat has been unaffected, as he finished the season with two centuries, an average of 88 and a place at number five secured.

Meanwhile as South Africa were finishing off against Pakistan, MS Dhoni was compiling what was surely his finest ever innings as he scored his maiden double century and put India in a dominant position from where they can beat Australia. Dhoni’s qualities are well known, particularly in the shorter form, but here was a controlled, powerful display with the bat as he thrived against seam and particularly spin where he took apart Nathan Lyon repeatedly.

If Dhoni is considering giving up Test Cricket, which has long been mooted as a possibility, it would be a bitter shame because this was a captain’s knock of the highest calibre, riding to the rescue as his team tottered and then, Gilchrist-esque, turning the tables decisively.

What both these two and England’s Matt Prior (average 43, six centuries and general heartbeat of the team) have done, is made this the era of Test cricket the era of the super-keeper. It’s easy in a game with as rich and wondrous a history as cricket to fall into a “things ain’t as good as they used to be” mentality, but the truth is that in terms of wicket keeper-batsmen, “things have never been better” is a more fitting statement.

Of all the keepers with the highest average, these three occupy places within the top ten list who have played more than 20 innings as wicket keeper, headed by Andy Flower with Gilchrist, Les Ames, Sangakkara, Clyde Walcott surrounding them. Yet the point is that Test Cricket has seldom had the consistency of quality keeper-batsmen as we have now.

Flower and Gilchrist’s contemporaries included Junior Murray, Mark Boucher and Moin Khan, mainly wicket keepers than batsmen while Ames and Walcott both played at a time when few wicket keepers were expected to bat. Intriguingly two of the next three names on the list are recent wicket-keepers, Brad Haddin and Brendan McCullum, further underlining the point.

And it shows no sign of stopping. Australia have Matthew Wade playing for them, already a very accomplished batsman and a young player who ought to develop capably, while Tim Paine – also a capable batsman – also lies in wait providing he can keep his fingers free of damage. England have recently introduced Jos Buttler, more a batsman than a keeper, into international limited overs cricket while South Africa have done the same with Quinton de Kock.

In time we may come to view Gilchrist as something of a symbol of what was to come, a prototype. Because whereas once such batting exploits from wicket-keepers were something unique, judging by recent events, they have fast become the norm for his successors.

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The IPL Auction: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For the purists the IPL is the work of cricket’s version is an evil, a Twenty20 cashcow corrupting the purer form of the game. Yet look beyond the hyperbole (which the IPL does very well) and there is something about it, a strange alluring attraction of seeing the world’s best players congregated together.

Nothing is more attractive than seeing the world’s best players being valued and sold off to the highest bidder at will. It is a means of quantifying value and skill-something normally measured purely by runs and wickets.

Meanwhile it also throws up the intriguing prospect of spicy encounters ensuing, Shane Warne and Paul Collingwood or Harbhajan Singh and Andrew Symonds will certainly enjoy sharing dressing rooms.

So here’s a look at the IPL auction and those who could prove value for money, those that probably won’t and those who probably never would have in the first place.

The Hits

Shakib Ul-Hasan ($425,000: Kolkata Knight Riders)

The world’s best all-rounder according to ICC and a steal at that price. Capable spinner, capable batsmen and a proven international who has been pivotal in Bangladesh’s recent resurgence. This could be the tournament which catapults him onto the world stage.

Davy Jacobs ($190,000: Mumbai Indians)

Proven T20 performer with the Warriors and an explosive opening batsman who showed his capability in last year’s Champions League. With other big hitters fetching top dollar, the South African could prove to be a steal at that price.

Aaron Finch ($300,000: Delhi Daredevils)

About to make his Australia T20 debut and you can be sure that his value will skyrocket if he performs well. Delhi will be delighted to have snapped him up before he can showcase his talents.

Eoin Morgan ($350,000: Kolkata Knight Riders)

Before Morgan came along England were mere Twenty20 contenders but now they are world champions thanks in no small part to the wristy Irish genius. Hits the ball in unusual areas-a nightmare for opposing captains-and a brilliant finisher in all forms of the game who any team would want coming in at two or three wickets down.

JP Duminy ($300,000: Deccan Chargers)

A surprise, mainly that he went for such a low price. After fetching $950,000 previously it’s a surprise to see his value drop so far. Sure his recent international form has been disappointing but he’s a class act capable of exploding with the bat in long or short form and a superb fielder to boot.

The Misses

Johan Botha ($950,000: Rajasthan Royals)

So much for a consistent if unspectacular off-spinner. A solid performer, capable of hitting lower order runs and fielding well to boot but it’ll be intriguing to see whether he can live up to the price tag.

Adam Gilchrist ($900,000: Kings XI Punjab)

The guy’s a bona fide legend and a one-time explosive batsmen. Sad thing is that those times were probably four or five years ago. Averaged only 30 in the English T20 season for Middlesex so why, bar experience and leadership qualities and his name, he is worth so much is head scratchingly mystifying.

Robin Uthappa ($2.1 million: Pune Warriors)

On his day he’s a match-winner, but for that price you could pick up a Dwayne Bravo, Graeme Smith, Ishant Sharma and Michael Hussey. Has much to prove and obviously has the talent to perform but does he have the consistency to justify that price tag?

Subramaniam Badrinath ($850,000: Chennai Super Kings)

A run-scorer for sure, and a good one at that. But he has precious little in the way of Twenty20 pedigree and lacks the explosive ability of say Kieron Pollard or AB De Villiers who fetched a similar price.

Ravindra Jadeja ($950,000: Kochi)

The very definition of a bits and pieces player, a decent batsmen and a decent spinner but he scarcely does both facets to be a match-winner which at that price he’d need to be. With Jayawardene and Muralitheran purchased at higher prices by the Kochi franchise it seems they have bought him to support both, but have they paid too much for a utility man?

The Ugly

Brian Lara (Unsold)

Quite what a 41 year old who has been retired from the international game for 4 years and who recently flopped on his comeback in Zimbabwe was expecting is up for debate. His continued presence in the contest was a surprise, and perhaps now it’s time the legend started looking at that great cricketing gig in the sky.

Graeme Swann (Unsold)

Pure English politik. Indian teams were worried about his involvement, though that didn’t stop the likes of Kevin Pietersen and Stuart Broad getting snapped up. Rumours of a lack of a doosra or mystery seem slightly mystifying given that he has risen to the pinnacle of the game using his own method of spin bowling magic.

Tamim Iqbal (Unsold)

The next Sehwag according to some. His absence is a loss for the tournament, as he’ll probably go on and become a star over the next 12 months and have people begging for him to come back next year.

Jesse Ryder (Unsold)

An explosive batsmen, capable bowler and by all accounts readily available for service. His inability to find suitors is frankly bizarre, especially given that he has recently excelled on the sub-continent with New Zealand.

James Anderson (Unsold)

The second best fast bowler in the world behind Dale Steyn who cost $1.2 million, and a recent Ashes winner and match winner to boot. Another capable performer who is a real victim of English politik. While he lacks the versatility with the ball in the shorter form as his team-mate Broad, as he’s recently shown he’s in the prime of his life and would have been a real asset to any team.