Keeping wickets to fast bowlers | careful attention | wicket keep

Keeping wickets to fast bowlers - Part II

- By S.P Bhatia    

A wicketkeeper's job is multi-dimensional and involves a number of aspects that require careful attention and planning. One of these aspects has been dealt with in this article, i.e. the position and posture of the keeper when keeping wickets to the 'fast men'.

There are a number of factors that will affect where and how the keeper will stand, or rather, crouch.

1. The speed of the bowler: fast, fast-medium, medium-fast or medium.
2. The condition of the pitch: bouncy, fast, sticky or slow.
3. The direction and velocity of the wind and the atmosphere.
4. The state of the ball: new, semi-new or old.
5. The situation of the match.

ashok mankad

Tendulkar falls to the Gilchrist-Lee combination

When a 'tearaway' fast bowler like Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee is operating with the new ball in 'normal' pitch and wind conditions, a keeper should stand around 20 yards away from the stumps. A 'normal' pitch is one that is sporting, offering equal purchase to the batsmen and bowlers. 'Normal' conditions imply that it is not very windy. The definition of 'normalcy' of course varies from country to country. In England, it stands for overcast weather, seaming wickets and a wind that is not too strong. On the sub-continent, it represents hot and humid weather with little or no wind, and a pitch with low bounce.

When a fast bowler operates with a semi new-ball in these normal conditions, the keeper should stand two yards further up, i.e. 18 yards. When the ball gets older, the keeper should move two yards closer. But then, conditions are not always normal. How should a keeper adjust to different kinds of wickets?

On a bouncy, fast strip, it would be wise for a keeper to crouch 22 yards from the stumps.

Keeping wickets to fast bowlers on a sticky wicket is an art in itself. The ball plays all kinds of tricks on a sticky wicket; it may kick off, keep low or skid after pitching. This creates problems not only for the batsmen, but also the keepers. Here, the keepers will have to use their discretion. Depending upon their experience and confidence, they will have to decide the distance from the stumps where they will be most comfortable.

Wicketkeepers will also have to adjust their position according to the wind conditions, as the pace at which the ball travels in the air and off the pitch is influenced by the velocity and direction of the wind.

When the bowlers are 'fast-medium' like Zaheer Khan, Mohammed Sami and Makhaya Ntini, the ball is brand new, and the conditions normal, the keeper should crouch around 18 yards away from the stumps. As the ball gets older, he should move closer to the stumps in the manner stated above.

Parthiv Patel

Parthiv Patel (R) celebrates the fall of a wicket with Irfan Pathan

For bowlers who are 'medium-fast', like Heath Streak, Darren Gough and L. Balaji, the keeper should stand around 14 yards from the stumps when the ball is new. But with a ball that is 6-8 overs old, he may well use his discretion and judgment, and think in terms of 'standing up', close to the stumps. This will give him the opportunity to pull off stumpings if the batsman stretches forward and misses. One remembers Indian stumper Sadanand Viswanath 'standing up' to Madanlal against England in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket and taking a superb reflex catch to dismiss Richard Ellison. Some bowlers tend to get more confident when their keepers stand up, although there aren't many who feel this way in international cricket at the moment. Alec Bedser, England's bowling great of the 40s and 50s, was one such. Another factor that comes into play in 'standing-up' matters is the match situation. Even if the keeper wants to stand up, the captain or bowler may overrule him if they want to cut out the possibility of the batsman getting a thick edge and the ball sailing past the keeper for a boundary.

While some keepers might think of standing up to medium-fast bowlers and others may decide against it, they should go ahead and do so against 'military medium' bowlers like Sourav Ganguly, Nathan Astle and Ian Harvey, who generally operate with a semi-new or old ball (I say 'generally' because Ganguly has opened the bowling for India in quite a few Tests!). However, in windy, seaming conditions like those in England, he should stand 14 yards away even to these bowlers, as the chances of the batsman getting deceived by the swing and nicking a catch are far greater. In his usual position, away from the wickets, the keeper anyway has less than a second in which to observe the ball as it takes the outside edge of the bat and flies in his direction at a certain height and speed. He has to judge the path, height and then catch it. Reducing this time further by standing up, will increase the chances of the catch being missed.