The Australian great and possibly still the best wicket-keeper batsman in the history of Test cricket, Adam Gilchrist, made a vital contribution to the game of cricket. He changed the way wicket-keepers are seen in the cricketing world by barging through bowling attacks with his eye-catching shots and attractive flicks. While Gilchrist was no doubt a good keeper, what made him great was his batting. An opener in ODIs, Gilchrist was a force to reckon with at no.7 in Test cricket, a curious position that had little importance in World cricket until Gilchrist stamped his mark there.
Prior to Gilchrist, no.7 was for the Ealhams, Healys and Dharmasenas. The position was either adorned by wicket-keepers shielding a lengthy tail or by bits and pieces all-rounders who could hold a bat with a nice textbook grip but could barely make match turning contributions.
Enter Adam Gilchrist, the destroyer. He changed the way Test cricket had been played by blowing away attacks with his blade like willow. Remember, this man was booed early in his career by Australian fans who thought that Ian Healy being dropped was unfair. Little did they know that this man from New South Wales would change the script of world cricket. Little did they know that he would help his team cakewalk to a World Cup triumph (2007 World Cup finals). Little did they know that the no.7 position was forever going to be changed in Test cricket.
Such was Gilchrist’s impact that teams around the globe started looking for keepers who could bat. India went the other way around and made a batter keep (Rahul Dravid) in the 2003 World Cup. But Test cricket was a different ball game altogether. It required specialists or so it was thought. In came MS Dhoni, with his long mane and sheer horse power. The Ranchi boy shook world cricket with his fearsome striking and became a force in all formats of the game. He played at no.7 too.
Surely, there is some trade secret behind keepers batting at no.7 in Test cricket.
No.7 is nobody’s land. You are neither a batsman nor a bowler there or both a batsman and a bowler as per the conventional ways of cricket. The trend is to play six batsman, four bowlers and a keeper in Tests. Surely a keeper isn’t restricted to no.7, but more often than not he finds himself slotted there. Funny isn’t it? Not so. There is one obvious reason for teams preferring them there.
With keeping being a hectic job given the crouching pose, the player needs time before he can come out to bat again. This prevents back injuries majorly which is something that often hampers the careers of wicket-keepers.
AB de Villiers, who took on the keeping task in the Test team post-Mark Boucher’s retirement had said that keeping his tough on his back especially with him playing in the top 5. However, contrasting to de Villiers’ views, Quinton de Kock, the permanent keeper in the Proteas Test lineup now, revealed that he would like to bat higher up the order in Tests.
Speaking to The Cricketer, De Kock had revealed, “Obviously, I would like to bat a little bit higher, but I look at the team first. I’ve never really batted higher in Test cricket. In four-day cricket, I have opened the batting but I didn’t keep, now I am keeping, it doesn’t help. I could end up keeping for 180 overs then have to go and open. I still end up scoring runs on top of it – I’m going to be one of the fitter guys in the cricketing world, if not the fittest guy in cricket. It’s a large workload on me, we’ll have to see how things go.”
While he understands that moving up the order is a huge workload, batting with the tail during his golden period seems to make him restless. The terrific South African has stats pretty similar to Gilchrist himself at this stage of his career.
After 20 Tests
Average – 53.75
Strike Rate – 78.75
100s – 3
Catches – 84
Stumpings – 6
Runs – 1402
Average – 50.07
Strike Rate – 72.41
100s – 3
Catches – 82
Stumpings – 6
But Gilchrist had something which de Kock doesn’t have. The Australian played below one of the best top six in the history of World cricket while de Kock is more often than not doing a repair job these days. The case of Johnny Bairstow is also not different. Despite making truck loads of runs, he finds himself at 7 owing to his keeping duties.
But do they really need to be restricted to 7?
Mushfiqur Rahim, the Bangladesh keeper has had considerable success coming in at no.4 these days. The short statured wicket-keeper is one of Bangladesh’s best batsmen and has effortlessly switched between keeping and batting, not to mention that he captains the side. While de Villiers described this as hectic, someone like de Kock, who seems eager to take up the task of batting higher up could be given the opportunity.
Most of the modern teams have their keepers at no.7. Australia with Matthew Wade, England with Johnny Bairstow (@ 6 sometimes), Dickwella for Sri Lanka, Sarfraz at times for Pakistan, Wriddhiman Saha for India all bat at no.7. Very few like Rahim have taken up the arduous task of batting higher up and succeeded. Another veteran Zimbabwean legend, Andy Flower, had done a similar job to Rahim, batting, keeping and captaining from no.4 with immense success.
In the case of Quinton de Kock and Johnny Bairstow, they have been one of the most prolific run-scorers of the team in recent years. Pushing them down the order seems to be a limiting their opportunities to unleash their best.
The concept of floating keepers
With the advent of T20 cricket, floaters in batting lineups are a common sight. We see the likes of Jos Buttler, Glenn Maxwell and Corey Anderson used based on the situation rather than a prescribed batting order. Test cricket, known as the purest form of cricket, is not averse to changes either and it might be time to incorporate the concept of floaters in Test line-ups.
This could help the wicket-keepers who can open the batting or play in the top 4 if their team is batting first in a Test match which would likely give them ample rest before they bat again. In the second innings or if they are batting second, the keeper can move back down the order with another player replacing him at the top. This, of course, involves several shufflings of batting orders, something not recommended by purists of the game in Test cricket. But the time has come for an innovation and it could just turn out to be a revolutionary change in the game.