Wicket keeping is a thankless job. Like umpires,
wicketkeepers are hardly noticed if they are doing
well. They hit the headlines only when they make
mistakes. A keeper might have done well for 89.5
overs in a Test match without receiving a single
chance. However, if his concentration flags off the
last ball of the day due to sheer exhaustion, and
he spills a catch or misses a stumping, his one
error will be discussed, dissected and debated, not
his excellent work prior to that.
Wicket keeping is a never-ending activity of sorts.
A batsman can take it easy after crossing over to
the non-striker's end and a bowler can recharge his
batteries while returning to his bowling mark, but
the wicketkeeper cannot afford to relax at any
stage. After the ball has been delivered and the
shot played, he has to run up to the stumps and
take the throws from the fielders, some of them
nasty, others inaccurate, and try and convert them
into a run-out.
A budding wicketkeeper has several factors ranged
against him. If you see the practice wickets on any
cricket ground, you will find in most instances,
the rear of the net is so close to the stumps that
there will be little room in which a keeper could
stand to gain some practice. If the keeper has to
practice to a fast bowler, then there should be a
distance of at least three to four meters between
the stumps and the rear of the net.
Not only is wicket keeping thankless, it is also
the most challenging of all the cricketing jobs. It
demands lightning reflexes, a sharp eye and peak
physical fitness, mental strength and an ability to
concentrate for long periods of time. It also helps
if the keeper has the knack of encouraging his
teammates, especially in situations when things may
not be going their way.
Having said all this, the fact is that the
wicketkeeper is in the best position to watch and
judge everything that is happening on the field. He
can detect faults in the batsman and guide his
captain and bowlers accordingly.
WHERE TO STAND
There are no hard and fast rules for this. When
spinners are bowling, it is customary for the
keeper to stand up, within touching distance of the
stumps. The distance at which he stands from the
stumps depends upon factors like the condition of
the pitch (whether the bounce is even or the odd
ball is keeping low) and of course, the bowler's
pace. It is easier for the keeper to take catches
off edges when he is standing back to the fast
bowlers than while standing up, as the extra
distance enables him to observe the path of the
ball and judge its pace, right from the time it
leaves the bowler's hand and then flies off the
edge of the bat. Stumping opportunities also become
rare as the pace increases.
Against bowling of the medium-paced variety, if the
keeper reckons that he will be able to judge the
flight and pace of the delivery from close to the
wickets, then he should stand up. Some
medium-pacers also prefer to have their
wicketkeepers stand up, even when they are bowling
in-swingers at a fairly good speed. The proximity
of the keeper will keep the batsman on tenterhooks,
as he will be aware that he cannot afford to
over-balance while playing forward to an
out-swinger. If he misses and over-balances, he
runs the risk of being stumped. Having said that,
the wicketkeeper who opts / is asked to stand up
will have to make incredible saves on the leg side
and take nasty cracks on the wrists and the body.
In my opinion, a wicketkeeper should stand where he
thinks he can achieve the best results. He should
either stand right up or back. The 'no man's land'
should be ignored.
HOW TO STAND
Wicketkeepers usually stand with their left foot
around the line of the off-stump (to right-handed
batsmen), as this position gives them a clear view
of the bowler's delivery outside the off-stump. But
the position should be flexible. He should stand
little wider for a right-handed bowler bowling from
round-the-wicket, than for a left-handed bowler
operating from round-the-wicket. The objective
should be to be able to watch the flight of the
ball all the way.
The keeper should feel comfortable, weight evenly
balanced between the feet. While standing up, he
should be close enough to the stumps to remove the
bails with a sweeping movement that does not demand
When a delivery is pitched wide of the stumps,
wicketkeepers tend to move slightly backwards. This
should be avoided, because that takes them away
from the wickets and makes a stumping harder to
achieve. Foot movements should be kept to the
barest minimum, confined to the essentials for
positioning the body and hands, except when one has
to reach out to a really wide delivery. A fault
that lower-grade wicketkeepers commit is that they
fail to move their bodies in the line of the
flight. If a fast bowler bowls a big in-swinger
outside the leg-stump, the wicketkeeper should keep
in mind the saving of byes, and the possibility of
catching a nick on the leg-side. He must
immediately pick up the flight and assess what the
ball is doing. He should move to the leg-side so
that he will be able to take the ball easily, as it
will come straight at him. By doing this, not only
will he be in a position to collect the ball
cleanly, but he will also have a fair bit of margin
on the leg-side to go for a catch if the ball is
The same principle holds good for the outswinger.
But in this case, it is easier to spot as it goes
away from the batsman, and there is no 'blind spot'
wherein the batsman obscures his vision. The keeper
shouldn't forget to let his hands 'give' the ball.
The ball should always be held with the fingers
pointing towards the ground. The hands should
'give' slightly as they take the ball, so the risk
of injury is minimum.
MOVEMENT AND OBSERVATION
Experience and instinct will prepare the keeper for
the type of delivery the bowler will hurl, or a
possible chance that the batsman may offer him in
the form of an edge or a stumping. He should be
able to move swiftly and precisely, and catch, not
snatch at the ball out of excitement.
When a quality keeper takes the ball in his palms,
the impact of the ball thudding into the gloves
produces a soft sound, similar to that produced by
a cover-drive that goes straight off the meat of
It is vital for the keeper to watch the ball right
into his gloves. He should place himself in front
of the line of the ball while taking it. No player
on the field can be as helpful to the captain or
the bowler as the stumper. He sees exactly what
every ball does, whether it swings in the air or
turns off the pitch. The man at square-leg can see
the striker play and miss the ball near the
off-stump and think that it swung towards the
off-side. But he may be wrong. The ball may have
gone straight through with the batsman playing
inside the line. But the wicketkeeper would have
seen everything. A quality keeper will not take a
long time to be able to tell the bowler what type
of delivery is troubling the batsman.
The primary jobs of the keeper are to take catches,
make stumpings and play his part in run-out
opportunities. A keeper who is consistent in
converting half-chances into dismissals with his
agility, anticipation and concentration, should be
When there is a run-out chance, the keeper should
take position behind the stumps, never in front.
Because of his gloves, a wicketkeeper stands a
better chance of taking catches than his teammates.
Hence, he should be allowed to go for a catch if he
can reach it, be it a snick on the off or leg-side
or even a skied mish it.
The most important part, or parts, of the keeper's
'armoury', are his gloves; inner and outer.
The inner gloves should be made of chamois leather
and wore when they are slightly damp.
The outer gloves should be heavily padded with
finger-stalls and should fit snugly over the top.
New gloves, which tend to be stiff, shouldn't be
used in a match straightaway. They should be first
used in practice to make them pliable.
Wicketkeepers are highly susceptible to injury. The
best in the business get hit in the face, on the
head and / or body. They encounter wickets of all
kinds, some sticky and others with uneven bounce.
They can get hit if the ball flies off the top of
the stumps after the batsman is bowled, or if the
bail flies at them after being dislodged.
The 'occupational hazards' and other challenges
should not deter budding wicketkeepers. Keeping
wickets gives a cricketer the opportunity to be in
the game all the time. A wicketkeeper gets more
opportunities to send batsmen back to the pavilion
than the other fielders, and hence, he can make all
the difference between victory and defeat.
So put on those wicket keeping gloves and
leg-guards, and enjoy yourself!