The age of the specialist wicket-keeper was a long time ago. Indeed the age of the specialist anything is over, apart from a very small handful of players, like Usman Khawaja (Xbox), Jonny Bairstow (drinks carrying) and Boyd Rankin (erm…). When it comes to keeping wicket, we apparently live in a post-Gilchristian world. Such a statement merrily forgets that Jack Russell and Ian Healy were batsmen capable of scoring Test hundreds. And that Ian Smith could swing the blade. And going back further Alan Knott knew what he was doing with a plank of willow. Nonetheless, the shadow of Adam Gilchrist is still cast over cricket today and there’s no chance of hiding a decent keeper down amongst the tail end of the batting order.
When Mark Boucher (a reasonable bat, but no expert) was forced to take early retirement, it was widely assumed that AB de Villiers would sit in only on a temporary basis. What has happened is that the guy has shown himself to be pretty darn good with the gloves – and actually improve his batting record. It was November 2012 when he last played a Test match without scoring at least a half century, Goddammit. Even accounting for the long gaps where South Africa just hang around playing golf, that is remarkable.
Interestingly, three or four of the most in-form batsmen in the game at the moment fall within a broad definition of glovemen – de Villiers and Brad Haddin are incumbents; Brendon McCullum and Kumar Sangakkara were previous Test keepers and now solely keep wicket in the limited overs matches. Until he went shit, Matt Prior was also doing a fine job with the bat. Admittedly, McCullum still averages just 38. But his Test form recently – and a year ago against England – shows that he’s not just a slogger; this was the man who ignited the IPL right from its first innings but now has played the eighth longest Test match innings.
Indeed looking over the past two years of Test cricket, the wicket keepers are scoring runs for fun. Only those from Pakistan and Zimbabwe have not reached three figures. There have been 19 hundreds by keepers in those 24 months (and this excludes those scored by McCullum and Sangakkara). Yet in the history of Test cricket, there have been 188 centuries scored by wicket keepers. There were just two by 1930. Leslie Ames then made eight. The 50th was scored by Ian Smith in 1984; the 100th by Sangakkara in 2001. Gilchrist, Flower and Sangakkara made plenty but by 2007 and 2008 there were only three in each year (one of which was scored by Tim Ambrose, much to the delight of his sisters and aficionados of the square cut).
But now centuries are as common as Nandos. Even discounting de Villiers – on the basis that the man could be designated groundsman and he’d still score a hundred whilst grinning like a handsome fucker – the likes of Haddin, Dinesh Chandimal and BJ Watling are scoring runs for fun. Now if only England could (re)find someone similar, that would be marvelous.