The concept of wicket-keepers has changed a lot over the last couple of decades. While keeping used to be a primary skill during the earlier days of cricket, the last two decades in particular have seen it becoming a secondary skill. Batting has taken over as the primary skill and it is tough for average batsmen to survive even if they have flawless keeping skills.
In fact, players can still get away with the flaws in their glove-work in limited-overs formats as long as they are scoring big runs with the bat. That’s the reason we see so many part-time keepers being groomed into full-time ones nowadays, just because of their superior batting abilities.
However, Test cricket is still a format which gives equal importance to both skills. Teams can’t afford their glovemen making mistakes continuously over the span of five days. It just upsets the rhythm of the bowlers and goes on to have a negative impact on the performance of the whole team. On the other hand, they can’t afford keepers who are not capable of scoring significant amount of runs as well. So, the format demands players who flourish in both the roles. It has often been tough to find such players but with the growing domination of batting in the last decade or so, such players have started coming through in plenty. In fact, we are blessed to witness so many quality wicketkeeper-batsmen at present.
If the numbers during the last four years or so are considered, Rishabh Pant seems to be the best of the lot (players who have played at least five Tests during this period) with a batting average of 49.71 and a dismissals to innings ratio of 2.333 as a keeper. General notion might not place him amongst the most technically sound wicket-keepers at present but statistics suggest that he has been more than effective. Even Wriddhiman Saha, who is considered as the best Indian wicket-keeper at present, doesn’t have the numbers to compete with Pant.
Saha’s batting average of 33.90 and a dismissals to innings ratio of 1.462 are not as good as Pant’s respective numbers as mentioned before.
Performance of wicket-keepers in Tests since April 1, 2015 (minimum five matches)
Although there is a lot of difference between the number of Tests they have played during this period, with Saha playing 28 as compared to Pant’s nine, the latter’s return of four fifty-plus scores in just 15 innings, two of which have been converted into big hundreds, trumps Saha’s returns of eight fifty-plus scores in 40 innings.
Moreover, Pant’s dismissals to innings ratio of 2.333 as a keeper looks much better than that of Saha’s. Yes, Pant’s keeping numbers have been helped a lot by the bowling friendly conditions that he has played in as compared to Saha, but he has held on to the chances that have come his way and he can’t be discounted for that at all.
Also, his returns with the bat in tough batting conditions also increase his value a lot more.
So, Pant has established himself as one of the most potent of the Keeper-batsman force at present. However, there are other players around the World who have played more than two times the number of matches than him during this period and have almost equally good numbers in either department, if not in both.
South African Keeper-batsman Quinton de Kock is the only player who comes quite close to emulating Pant’s numbers in both departments. In 35 Tests, de Kock averages 39.51 with the bat. It might be a lot lower than that of Pant’s batting average but he has a slightly better dismissals to innings ratio of 2.348 as compared to the Indian keeper. These are great numbers considering the sample size of the number of matches he has played, which is almost four times than that of Pant at the moment.
Parthiv Patel also has a good dismissals to innings ratio of 2.300, which is very close to that of Pant’s. His batting average of 35.85 is pretty decent as well but he isn’t a part of India’s plans anymore as the management is focusing on younger players now and there is already an experienced option available in Saha.
Australia’s Tim Paine also has an exactly similar dismissals to innings ratio to that of Pant but he is not the best of batsmen at present. That is summed up by his accumulation of 763 runs in 31 innings. Pant has just 67 runs less than him, that too, in just 15 innings.
Bangladesh’s Mushfiqur Rahim has the second best batting average during this period. His tally of 1005 runs in 25 innings have come at an excellent average of 45.68. He is a decent wicket-keeeper too but he hasn’t been helped by the quality of the Bangladeshi bowling attack. It is summed up by his dismissals to innings ratio of 1.160 which is the lowest among keepers during this period.
England’s Ben Foakes has the third highest batting average of 41.50 after playing just five Tests but again his dismissals to innings ratio of 1.2 is the second lowest among all keepers during this period. Jonny Bairstow, however, is someone who has maintained a good balance between these two skills once again. His batting average of 40.87 goes well with a dismissals to innings ratio of 1.975.
In fact, Pant and Bairstow are the only two players to have a batting average of over 40 and a dismissals to innings ratio of over 1.6 during this period. So, they belong to the gold-category of Keeper-batsmen at present. In fact, de Kock just misses out on this category as he has a batting average of just less than 40 (39.51) during this period.
Players like Kusal Perera, Sarfaraz Ahmed, BJ Watling, Shane Dowrich and Niroshan Dickwella, all of whom average over 30 with the bat and have a dismissals to innings ratio of more than 1.6, are decent resources as well.
However, players like Matthew Wade, Jos Buttler, Liton Das, Peter Nevill and Regis Chakabva, who either have a batting average of less than 30 or a dismissals to innings ratio of less than 1.6, definitely need to improve. None of the teams can get away nowadays with their Keeper-batsman lacking the skill in either department. So, it’s high time that they stepped up.