Published on July 2nd, 2017 | by Rohit Sankar0
X-factor wicket-keepers the key for both teams
When the England-South Africa series gets underway at Lord’s on the 6th of July the focus will be on two wicket-keepers who have hogged headlines in the past few months in World Cricket. Not since the time of Adam Gilchrist and later MS Dhoni, has keepers become the centre of attraction before a big series. Although the likes of Joe Root, Hashim Amla, Alastair Cook and Faf du Plessis have all been amongst the runs in the past couple of years, it is Quinton de Kock and Johnny Bairstow, the men with the mitts, who are likely to draw the crowd.
The duo has been mesmerising in Test cricket in the past one and half years and the England keeper finished 2016 as the second highest run scorer behind his teammate, Joe Root. de Kock’s success was limited to ODI cricket until 2015 before he took to Tests like fish to water. At no.7, he had a huge role to fill in the Proteas batting line-up. He was the all critical link between the top order and lower order. His rampant ODI form demanded a place in the Test squad and de Kock did not disappoint when the opportunity came his way.
He was there to guide the lower order and at times to halt a top order slide. Whatever came his way, de Kock dealt with finesse and panache. He was sturdy and flamboyant, attacking and watchful, sublime and positive all at the same time. All this resulted in a rapid flow of runs and in his 23rd innings (21 as a keeper), de Kock became the fastest wicket-keeper batsman to 1000 runs in Test cricket.
|NAME||INNINGS TAKEN TO REACH 1000 RUNS|
|Quinton de Kock||21|
|AB de Villiers||23|
Bairstow wasn’t far behind. The stable and unattractive English middle-order batsman was always considered second fiddle to the much more talented and pleasing-to-the-eye, Jos Buttler. But such was the mountain of runs that Bairstow was knocking away in Championship cricket that there was no way Buttler could have squeezed past him in the Test side.
When de Kock reached his 1000th run in his 21st innings as keeper, he took over the record from Bairstow who had taken 22 innings. The workman-like batsman was less of a star in a line-up boasting of Cooks and Roots. But statistics reveal the sheer volume of runs he has scored in the past few years for England in Tests.
The comparison between the two is worth analysing.
Their statistics are stunningly similar at this point of their career. Bairstow has 2435 runs in 38 matches at an average of 41.27 including 3 hundreds and 14 half-centuries. de Kock has figured in only half the amount of matches but has 1333 runs in 19 Tests at 51.26 including 3 hundreds.
Now, let us filter out Bairstow’s career to the last 19 matches he has figured in and compare them to de Kock’s 19 matches in Test cricket thus far. The Yorkshire keeper was in stunning form in the past one and a half years and has 1633 runs in 19 matches compared to de Kock’s 1333. The averages are also pretty similar with both averaging above 50 in these 19 games. Eerily, the similarities do not end there.
|Quinton de Kock||13||1069||59.38||3|
Both Bairstow and de Kock have the same number of hundreds and fifties if Bairstow’s record is filtered out to his last 19 Tests when he was at his peak.
Further filtering out the numbers to games after January 2016, we see that both are amongst the top batsmen in Test cricket of late. de Kock has 1069 runs in 13 matches at 59.38 while Bairstow is right behind with 1470 in 17 Tests at 58.80. Both batsmen have 3 hundreds in this period. Only Steven Smith, Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara have better averages than the duo in the same time period (considering a minimum of 1000 runs scored).
We were speaking in terms of pure statistics till now, but the scintillating wicket-keeper batsmen have provided much more value to their respective teams.
de Kock, the bridge
Quinton de Kock came into the South African side with the Test team struggling for a proper no.7. Vernon Philander and Wayne Parnell were tried as all-rounders at 7 with de Villiers keeping but returns were less and they were risking damaging the back of their best batsmen. In came the much touted de Kock and he immediately stamped his class in the Proteas line-up.
He acted as a bridge between the top order and lower order, accelerating when running out of batsmen at the other end or encouraging the lower order to bat with him. The success was beyond measure. After his initial two series, de Kock has averaged above 50 in six of the eight Test series’ he has figured in. Out of the remaining two, one was a wash-out in Bangladesh where he did not bat and the other was a Test against Windies where he remained not-out in the only innings he batted in.
A century against England at home was followed by a welcome change against New Zealand where he opened the batting and made 82. Centuries came in the next two series as well, against Australia in Australia and Sri Lanka at home. There is no doubt that de Kock goes into the England series as one of the most dangerous batsmen in the South African line-up. His ability to score at quick pace is also a big headache for the England bowlers.
Bairstow, the rock
If de Kock has been South Africa’s strength at 7, Bairstow has been England’s most dependable batsman after Joe Root. He made a rip roaring 150* against the Proteas when England toured in 2016 and hasn’t looked back since. With England boasting of a long batting line-up, Bairstow had enough company till the lower order.
He has made that count with his thumping pull shots and pristine cover drives. Not the prettiest to watch, Bairstow has the vital knack of making runs and is so much more of a quick scorer than most people assume him to be. Although not in the league of Buttler or de Kock, Bairstow rotates strike frequently and is not averse to freeing his arms when the opportunity arises.
Statistics show that his record in England is sensational. South Africa, devoid of Dale Steyn and sweating over the fitness of Vernon Philander, will have a hard time against this lower order rock in the England line-up.
Not since the times of Gilchrist have wicket-keepers generated so much buzz before a series. With wicket-keeping becoming as much of a skill in front of the stumps as behind it, Bairstow and de Kock are pioneers of continuing the movement started by the likes of Gilchrist and Andy Flower and continued by MS Dhoni and Brendon McCullum.