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Where are India’s Wicketkeepers?

Do you have a brother or a son who is a wicketkeeper that can play for India?

It’s a question MS Dhoni asked in jest after India were knocked out of the T20 World Cup amid speculation of his retirement. There is a cold, harsh truth to it though. The fact that Dhoni could ask this question so freely shows just how insignificant a threat anyone else is to his position in either limited overs side.

Those that have questioned his place in the side have clearly not considered his replacements. The problems are two-fold. The ones that can keep, can’t bat where the team would need them to. The ones that could potentially bat in those situations, can’t keep well enough.

The last two IPL seasons have only added further proof. Wriddhiman Saha has plummeted along with his franchise Kings XI Punjab, averaging just 20.76 over 26 matches the last two years.

Though Naman Ojha has sustained his excellence in first class cricket, he has only managed 273 runs over 31 matches in the past two editions of the IPL; an average of just 13.65. His keeping has been very good, but he has failed batting down the order, the only role that he could hope to sneak into over the next few years (considering he is already 32).

Then there are the usual suspects, Robin Uthappa and Dinesh Karthik. Both have looked capable of being solid contributors through different phases of their career, but have never translated that into sustained international success. They are also, at best, mediocre keepers. Originally very good fielders, they identified wicketkeeping as unique opportunity to enhance their value. KL Rahul is the latest to join this breed, but he is yet to receive a fair shot on the international stage.

In theory, their ability to anticipate, move, and catch in the field should translate well enough to wicketkeeping. It’s a similar theory to thinking that a great slip fielder could do the job at silly point or forward short-leg because of their quick hands and reflexes. But while Sunil Gavaskar may have many stories to tell about his days as a slip fielder, when’s the last time you heard stories of the great Sunny at silly point? There’s a difference between potential and ability, and that’s what those vying for the throne must understand.

Watching this IPL in particular, I have noticed one major flaw that is hindering the batsmen-first-wicketkeeper-second breed behind the stumps. They get caught ball watching or batsman watching far too often. Uthappa has had numerous instances where better positioning could have prevented additional runs scored off wides. Fortunately for Robin, these extra runs are added to the wides total, and not byes. It really is no surprise to hear that the Kolkata Knight Riders have brought in Mark Boucher as a wicketkeeping coach.

Specialist keepers have been coached to have their chest aligned with the ball to allow for an easy collection. They’re able to do this because they anticipate well. It has become muscle memory for them to move laterally with the ball as it leaves the bowler’s hand. In the case of the three batsmen-keepers I mentioned, almost any delivery that tests them in the slightest reveals their poor form. They snatch at the ball. They do not move quickly enough laterally with the ball. They anticipate the ball being met by bat rather than focusing all their energy on where the ball will be if they miss. This was the main culprit of their missed stumpings during the season.

The man ahead of all of them has reached a point where he can do both!


Their problems don’t even end with collecting deliveries. Positioning to collect throws from the outfield is another weakness. Dinesh Karthik is probably the worst of the lot in this regard. There have already been numerous instances where he gets way ahead of himself and is thinking about knocking over the stumps before collecting the ball. The fact that he’s had these issues collecting throws from one of the best fielders in Ravindra Jadeja from the outfield speaks volumes of his keeping standard.

Uthappa and Rahul are actually quite good at positioning themselves for run outs. They’re not half as fidgety or anxious as Dinesh Karthik. Not having the batsmen’s blade as a distraction clearly works to their advantage. While they are often caught flat-footed when receiving deliveries from bowlers, they anticipate throws well, and are on the balls of their feet for run out opportunities.

While Dhoni believes he can keep going till 2019, the potential replacements make it vital to the country’s cricketing success that he does. He will surely be criticized when he fails, and questions of his age as well as wear and tear on the body will be asked, but those that do it will be taking an extremely one-dimensional view. Whether it’s behind the stumps with gloves, or in front of them with a bat, the incumbent is clearly a class above.

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2 Responses to "Where are India’s Wicketkeepers?"
  1. Nige
    Reply Nigel Armitage June 8, 2016 23:14 pm

    Very interesting article, but I am curious as to who you think WILL be the guy to take over..? All of those you comment on above do not seem to have your approval, so I would ask who you think will get it or is there someone young coming through..? Sanju Samson..?

    • Vivek Jacob
      Reply Vivek Jacob June 9, 2016 04:30 am

      Nigel. In terms of who will take over after 2019, Sanju Samson does appear the likely choice at the moment. I would imagine that whoever steps in for Dhoni in 2019 would be brought in with 2023 in mind. Naman Ojha will be 35 in 2019, Saha 34, Uthappa 33, Karthik 34. From players that are currently in the fold, it would have to be between KL Rahul who would be 27 in 2019 and Samson who would be 24. If Rahul can really focus on his keeping and improve, I think he would be ideal. The bigger concern is finding big hitters. Wicketkeeper or not, there are far too many top order technical batsmen and too few power hitters that the modern era demands.


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