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The Ashes

Published on November 6th, 2017 | by Rohit Sankar

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Australia’s wicket-keeper conundrum thickens ahead of Ashes

With less than 20 days to go for the first Test match of the Ashes, Australia are still undecided on who will don the mitts in the much-anticipated series. Since the retirement of Brad Haddin, Matthew Wade and Peter Nevill have been the primary contenders but neither has done enough to warrant a long-term run in the side.

Nevill was dropped after a slew of poor scores with the bat last year, although his wicket-keeping skills remain top-notch. Wade, who replaced him, has done little with the bat over the past one year and his keeping skills aren’t something worth writing home about. This puts Australia in a fix as they enter the Ashes with their lower middle-order completely unset.

The keeper has been more or less fixated at the no.7 slot by the Aussies since Adam Gilchrist made it his own for over a decade with some astounding shot-making and more than adequate keeping skills.

But expecting another Gilchrist is stupid. Such players are once-in-a-lifetime find and Australia would do well to expect their wicket-keeper to do what he ought to do best – keeping.

Ian Chappell said as much in an article published on ESPNCricinfo.

“The three best wicketkeepers I’ve seen were Rod Marsh and Ian Healy from Australia and Alan Knott from England. All three had a few things in common: they were excellent glovemen, they were thoughtful and contributed ideas that helped the team take wickets, and they could bat.”

Chappell was taking a dig at Steven Smith who had said that he expects the keeper to be slightly vocal behind the stumps, urging his teammates on, getting under the skin of the opposition etc.

This, Matthew Wade had done with considerable consistency in the Smith regime. But what he hasn’t done is keep well or bat well enough. In 10 matches under Steven Smith, Wade averages a mere 20.23 with one half-century and 263 runs in all.

“For a captain out in the middle, I’ve always got a lot on my mind, I’m doing different things. So for a keeper, it’s about ensuring that the energy’s up and if someone needs a little pick-me-up, go and get them, go and touch them and make sure that we’re doing what we need to do. Those are important things to do for a wicketkeeper”, Smith had commented.

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What Chappell felt irksome in this comment is that Smith wasn’t urging his keeper to do the job he was in the team for – keeping. Nevill’s glovework is exceptional and former wicket-keepers, Ian Healy and Adam Gilchrist, stick by Nevill in the keeper debate.

“First of all, I think that Nevill … it was tough on him to get dropped,” Gilchrist had said on Fox Sports’ The Back Page. “When that big cleanout happened last summer, I thought he was the victim of a poorly performed batting order. Wade came in because they wanted runs and they wanted voice behind the stumps. I thought it was hard on Nevil to be dropped then.”

If Nevill can do the keeping job and put in some valuable runs here and there, there is no reason why chirpy Wade should get a longer lifeline.

That said, these two aren’t the sole contenders for the keeping job. Quite a few others – Tim Paine, Alex Carey, Cameron Bancroft and Peter Handscomb – are also considered options for standing behind the stumps.

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Bancroft and Handscomb aren’t regular wicket-keepers although they are more than capable of making the step up if asked. But with a big series in the offing, would the selectors want to risk an occasional keeper? If whoever is selected Gordon to spill a Alastair Cook or a Joe Root, Australia and it’s keeper would be under some severe pressure.

That said, none of the other contenders can match up to the batting abilities of Handscomb and Bancroft. Both are accomplished batsman, the former already in the Test team at no.5, while the latter is still a formidable contender for the backup batsman’s role.

Since 2015, Australia’s no.7 batsmen (mostly occupied by Wade and Nevill) have contributed just 811 runs in 31 Tests at an average of 20.79, the lowest for any Test playing nation. So they need to shore up on the batting front as well, especially with their no.6 position also rather vulnerable.

 

Team Tests played since 2015 Runs from no.7 batsmen Average
England 38 2405 42.19
Sri Lanka 30 1948 38.19
New Zealand 24 1131 37.70
South Africa 28 1251 32.07
Pakistan 25 1096 29.62
India 29 1027 28.52
Zimbabwe 7 392 28.00
Bangladesh 16 715 26.48
West Indies 26 964 21.90
Australia 31 811 20.79

 

This brings Bancroft and Handscomb into the picture and if the Aussies decide to hand over the gloves to one of these two, they have additional room to accommodate an extra all-rounder or batsman.

Tim Paine and Alex Carey are the other options. The former is not considered a front-runner for the position although he still remains an outside bet while Carey is widely acknowledged as an extremely talented keeper who can bat well. The southpaw, though, has little to show in terms of numbers but sometimes it is these X-factor players that make the step up when required. Giving Carey a Test debut in the Ashes may not seem such a reckless decision given the kind of failures his recent predecessors have brought about.

Whatever happens, Australia have very less time to decide on their best option and wouldn’t want to switch whoever is selected in the middle of an important series like they did against South Africa last year. England have a quality bowling attack and the hosts would do well to remember that their batting depth is also a subject they need to touch upon in the next few days. Whether they choose to go with the chatter of Matthew Wade or glovework of Peter Nevill or batting skills of Cameron Bancroft or tidiness of Alex Carey remains to be seen.

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mm

A cricket enthusiast striving to convey the finer details of the game in a capsule. I hope to present a bird's eye view of the game as I see it to the readers. PS: I am smitten by the likes of ABD but crush on pace bowlers who can make the ball talk.



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